State Anti-Marriage Amendments Threaten Domestic Violence Laws

Article excerpt

You may have thought that it was enough of a threat to our civil rights that states have enacted anti-same-sex marriage constitutional amendments. But courts in Ohio have interpreted that state's amendment in a manner that has serious, if unintended, consequences for victims of domestic violence.

During the last decade, nearly 20 states have approved anti-same-sex marriage constitutional amendments, including 11 that were approved during the November 2004 election. These amendments advanced the radical right wing's campaign to prevent legal recognition of same-sex relationships and families. Grassroots groups argued that voters should reject the amendments because they legally sanction discrimination against lesbians and gay men. Opponents also warned that these amendments could reach more broadly than voters might imagine and jeopardize the ability of large numbers of people -gay or straightto enjoy legal rights and benefits ranging from health care to the protections of the criminal laws.

Fears of these unintended consequences have come to fruition in Ohio, which enacted a broadly drafted constitutional amendment in December 2004. In addition to limiting marriage to the union of a man and a woman, this amendment prohibits the state from creating or recognizing any "legal status" for unmarried individuals that approximates marriage.

Soon after the amendment became law, defendants in domestic violence cases who were not married to theirpartners began using the amendment to avoid domestic violence laws. When domestic violence victims brought criminal charges against their abusers, or sought protective orders, defendants argued that Ohio's anti-domestic violence laws are now unconstitutional as applied to them. For over 25 years Ohio's anti-domestic violence laws have recognized the special harm inflicted by intimate partner violence, and have authorized criminal prosecutions and the issuance of civil protective orders against abusers even if the perpetrator and victim were not married. …