Couples in crisis

Carrie Petrick

In light of Issue 1, Judge will re-evaluate whether domestice violence laws apply to unmarried pairs

Domestic violence prosecutions may be just one of the areas that critics of Issue 1 say are more broad than necessary.

Credit: Andrew popik

A Cuyahoga County judge has said he will rule Feb. 18 whether unmarried couples can be protected under Ohio’s domestic violence laws.

There are between 10 and 20 cases pending in Cuyahoga County where the defense has asked that domestic violence charges be dismissed because the couples involved were not married, according to an article in Gay People’s Chronicle on Feb. 4.

In November, Ohio citizens voted to pass Issue 1. This new law stipulates: “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.”

Issue 1 may be more far-reaching than some thought.

Bridgit McCafferty, president of Kent PRIDE!, is concerned because if Ohio does not recognize domestic partnerships, domestic violence charges may not apply to unmarried couples. Issue 1 is incredibly vague she said.

“What do those five words at the end of the amendment mean? It can be applied to virtually anything,” she said.

McCafferty said that to many people, the law looks like it will only affect homosexuals, but people are now starting to find out what the ruling can do to heterosexual couples.

Lt. John Altomare, of the Kent Police Department, said domestic violence involves family or household members.

“It doesn’t have to be a married couple to be domestic violence,” Altomare said, adding that the term can even be applied to unrelated roommates. “As long as you’re co-habiting, it’s domestic violence.”

If the people involved do not live together, then assault charges apply. Both assault and domestic violence are first-degree misdemeanors. Domestic violence charges allow the victim to obtain a protection order, which prohibits the aggressor from going near the victim’s home or family, Altomare said.

Judges tend to set bonds for domestic violence higher than they do for an assault charge bonds, he said.

McCafferty could see that the new amendment may create a negative bias toward gay couples. For example, she said, if a gay man is taken to the hospital with critical injuries, his partner may be denied access to the hospital room. But if the man had a girlfriend, the hospital would be more likely to allow her in the room.

Police officers shouldn’t discriminate on that case-by-case basis depending on sexual orientation, said Sharon Hershey, legislative aide for Ohio Senator Kevin Coughlin.

“Every police group has to enforce the law the same,” Hershey said.

This may eliminate some fear that police forces in different jurisdictions may enforce the law differently, excluding non-married couples from domestic violence charges.

Contact news correspondent Carrie Petrick at [email protected].