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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Courts - Ohio Supreme Court rules domestic-violence law applies to unmarried couples [Updated]

From the Cincinnati Enquirer:

A Warren County man's attempt to invalidate the state domestic violence law has failed.

In a decision released today, the Ohio Supreme Court has held that the state's domestic violence law does not violate Ohio's "defense of marriage" amendment. ***

[The court rejected an argument] that, under the state's ban on gay marriage, unmarried people lack the legal status of married people - and therefore, the domestic violence law cannot be applied to unmarried people.

From the Columbus Dispatch:
Ohio's domestic-violence law applies to unmarried couples despite the state's 2004 constitutional ban of gay marriages, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled today.

Lower courts across Ohio had issued contradictory rulings on whether the 3-year-old amendment overturned domestic-violence statutes. By a large majority voters had agreed not only to define marriage as only between a man and woman, but also to mandate that the state and its political subdivisions could not "create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance or effect of marriage."

In a 6-1 ruling, the court said the domestic-violence law is not trying to define a legal relationship, but merely identifies one class of people who are protected from violence. The law lists 11 types of household relationships besides spouse, including other relatives, in-laws and ex-spouses.

“The state does not create cohabitation; rather it is a person's determination to share some of life's responsibilities with another that creates cohabitation,” Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer wrote for the majority. “The state does not have a role in creating cohabitation, but it does have a role in creating a marriage.” * * *

A trial court had granted a defense motion to dismiss the case, ruling the law violated the state's anti-gay-marriage amendment. That decision was overturned by the 12th District Court of Appeals.

The Supreme Court agreed with the 12th District.

“While the intent of the domestic-violence statute is to protect persons from violence by close family members or residents of the same household, the intent of the marriage amendment was to prevent the creation or recognition of a legal status that approximates marriage through judicial, legislative or executive action,” Moyer wrote. “The statute and the constitution are not in conflict.”

Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger dissented, arguing, “Using the term ‘living as a spouse' within the definition of ‘family or household member' clearly expresses an intent to give an unmarried relationship a legal status that approximates the ‘effect of marriage.' ”

Here, thanks to How Appealing, is a link to the Ohio Supreme Court's ruling in State v. Carswell.

ILB readers will recall that the question of how the proposed amendment to Indiana's constitution (SJR 7) that would ban same-sex marriage would impact Indiana's existing domestic violence laws was raised during the House commitee hearings earlier this year. Here is a quote from a March 22nd story in the LCJ, reproduced in this ILB entry:

Yesterday, Kerry Hyatt Blomquist, chief counsel for the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said she fears the language in the second section could lead a judge to dismiss domestic battery charges against a man accused of beating a woman simply because the couple isn't married. That happened in Ohio, where voters ratified a constitutional amendment that is similar in idea but worded differently.

"Section B of this amendment is vague, undefined and it's ambiguous," Blomquist said. "We have yet to see a proposed definition of 'legal incidents of marriage.' "

For background, start with this ILB entry from June 20th, which is headed "Status of same sex marriage in Ohio and Michigan." It begins: "During the legislative session earlier this year, there was much discussion about the constitutional bans on same sex marriage that have been approved in Ohio and Michigan and how they are being interpreted."

Here is a table the ILB has prepared setting out the provision proposed in Indiana's SJR 7, plus the wording of the ratified amendments to the Ohio and Michigan constitutions.

Indiana [proposed] (a) Marriage in Indiana consists only of the union of one man and one woman. (b)This Constitution or any other Indiana law may not be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents of marriage be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups.
Ohio Only a union between one man and one woman may be a marriage valid in or recognized by this state and its political subdivisions. This state and its political subdivisions shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance or effect of marriage.
Michigan To secure and preserve the benefits of marriage for our society and for future generations of children, the union of one man and one woman in marriage shall be the only agreement recognized as a marriage or similar union for any purpose.

[Updated at 3:10 pm] The ILB has asked Kerry Hyatt Blomquist, Legal Counsel for the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence, for reaction to today's Ohio ruling. She has responded:

We are very pleased that Ohio can continue to prosecute unmarried batterers under their existing domestic violence statutes. The Ohio Supreme Court must be commended for recognizing and noting the legislative intents of both the DV statute and the Ohio Constitutional amendment. ICADV remains, however, very concerned with the wording of SJR 7 here in Indiana. As we have said before, the second clause referring to the "legal incidents of marriage" is still undefined and ambiguous, lending itself to a variety of judicial interpretations and a similarly lengthy legal challenge. The devil remains in the details.
The ILB has also received a press release from David Miller of Ohio Citizens for Community Values (CCV), which includes this statement:
"[I]n other states like Arizona, Indiana, Florida, and California, where same-sex marriage advocates were arguing that amendments like Ohio's would dismantle domestic violence laws, this argument now is moot and off the table in the public policy debate over marriage amendments. "Numerous organizations were attempting to dismantle marriage protection amendments, not only in Ohio but several other states a well, and the Court has gone out of its way to say NO."

Posted by Marcia Oddi on July 25, 2007 12:37 PM
Posted to Courts in general