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Ohio judge issues opposing ruling in domestic violence case

Ohio judge issues opposing ruling in domestic violence case

Two Ohio judges have issued differing rulings in the past week on whether the state's constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage bars prosecutors from charging unmarried people with domestic violence. A Franklin County judge on Friday decided against dismissing a domestic violence case, disagreeing with arguments that the law doesn't apply to unmarried couples. Cuyahoga County common pleas judge Stuart Friedman said Wednesday that domestic violence charges cannot be filed against unmarried people because of the state's recently approved constitutional amendment, which prohibits unmarried couples from receiving any of the rights of marriage. Friedman reduced a felony domestic violence charge to a misdemeanor assault charge. Friedman said the ruling applies specifically to the case, but advocates said they believe its impact will be felt statewide because appeals likely will reach the Ohio supreme court. Seventeen states have constitutional language defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Ohio's is regarded as the broadest marriage amendment of those passed by 11 states on November 2 because it bans civil unions and legal status for all unmarried couples as well as same-sex marriages. Experts say a ruling by a higher court or legislation is needed to clarify how Ohio's gay marriage ban affects the state's 25-year-old domestic violence law, which has not been limited to married people. "In this court's view, the Ohio constitutional provision called the Marriage Amendment has a limited scope," Franklin County common pleas Judge Richard A. Frye ruled Friday. Frye said previous court decisions about marriage do not discount that people living together can be considered family household members. Frye's ruling came in the case of Terry Rodgers, 39, of Columbus, who is accused of beating his girlfriend in January. He is scheduled to go to trial in May. Franklin County prosecutor Ron O'Brien said his office has received similar motions challenging domestic violence charges for about a month. But officials said no Franklin County judge has dismissed a domestic violence case because the couple was not married. Supporters of Ohio's constitutional amendment banning gay marriage said the state's domestic violence law should be revised to make it clear that it applies to unmarried couples as well. "These [domestic-violence] crimes should have the same penalty whether you're married or not," said Phil Burress, president of Citizens for Community Values and chairman of the Ohio Campaign to Protect Marriage, a group that was key in pushing for the amendment's passage. (AP)

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