Unintended Consequences

Ohio’s same-sex marriage amendment is proving a boon for domestic abusers.


Ohio’s constitutional amendment banning gay marriage is two sentences long:

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.

The first sentence strips same sex couples of the right to marry, the second has caused residual damage to all unmarried couples, threatening the rights to safety of single Ohioans. That the state does not “recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals” has managed to weaken the state’s domestic violence statute to the point where unmarried accused batterers have, in at least a dozen cases, formally challenged domestic abuse convictions that had been brought down before the amendment.

This loophole has already resulted in the dismissal of charges in two cases where offenses that were once classified as felonies became misdemeanors in light of the amendment, which invalidates the domestic violence statute recognized for married couples. Both of those cases are on appeal and in April, Ohio Representative William J. Healy (D) introduced a bill that would clarify the amendment, allowing protections for cohabitating unmarried couples. The bill makes no mention of extending rights to same sex couples, “married” or otherwise.

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  • Elizabeth Gettelman is a former managing editor and public affairs director at Mother Jones. To follow her on Twitter, click here.