Judge cites Ohio gay marriage ban in disallowing unmarried people from filing domestic violence charges
A judge has ruled that Ohio's new constitutional ban on same-sex marriage prohibits unmarried people from being able to file domestic violence charges, a decision that has prompted an immediate appeal by prosecutors.
Judges and others across the country have been waiting for a ruling on how Ohio's ban on same-sex marriage, among the nation's broadest, would affect the state's 25-year-old domestic violence law, which previously wasn't limited to married people.
Wednesday's ruling by Cuyahoga County common pleas judge Stuart Friedman changed a felony domestic violence charge against Frederick Burk to a misdemeanor assault charge.
Burk, 42, is accused of slapping and pushing his live-in girlfriend during a January argument over a pack of cigarettes.
His public defender, David Magee, had asked the judge to throw out the charge because of the new wording in Ohio's constitution that prohibits any state or local government from enforcing a law that would "create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals."
Prior to the amendment's approval, courts applied the domestic violence law by defining a family as including an unmarried couple living together as would a husband and wife, the judge said. The new amendment banning same-sex marriage no longer allows that.
John Martin, who supervises appeals in the public defender's office, said the office was pleased with the ruling but would not comment further because of the appeal.
Because Burk had a prior domestic violence conviction, the latest charge was a felony, which could have resulted in an 18-month jail term; a misdemeanor assault carries a maximum sentence of six months. "This case is a good example of why we need a domestic violence law. A misdemeanor assault doesn't carry with it a significant enough penalty for repeat domestic violence abusers," prosecutor Matt Meyer said.
Some opponents of the amendment have said they hope the conflict over the domestic violence law would result in the same-sex marriage ban being repealed. Seventeen states have constitutional language defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Ohio's is regarded as the broadest amendment of those passed by 11 states on November 2 because it bans civil unions and legal status for all unmarried couples, gay and straight. (AP)