The amendment strikes back


When it comes to Ohio s new marriage amendment, we hate to say we told you so. But we re going to do it anyway.

Before voters approved state Issue 1 on Nov. 2, this newspaper, as well as Governor Taft, the state s two Republican U.S. senators, and its attorney general, warned that the constitutional amendment could have legal consequences beyond the simple ban on gay marriage its sponsors claimed.

Well, the amendment took effect Dec. 1 and sharp lawyers already have found devious ways to employ it, including a dangerous end run on domestic-violence statutes.

In two cases in Cleveland courts, the Cuyahoga County public defender s office has asked that domestic-violence charges be dismissed, citing the amendment s prohibition against any legal status for unmarried couples that approximates marriage. Ohio s domestic-violence law, the public defender pointed out, applies to a person living as a spouse.

If such reasoning were allowed to stand and we don t think it should enforcing domestic violence statutes in many cases might become difficult, if not impossible. We re very worried that some victims will not be granted the protection they need because they re not married, said Cathleen Alexander, director of the Domestic Violence Center in Cleveland. That could jeopardize people s lives.

About 20 percent of domestic violence complaints involve unmarried partners, according to a state advocacy group.

The Cuyahoga County prosecutor s office insists that state law merely describes relationships but doesn t grant any special rights to victims, and some legal experts say the marriage amendment will eventually be found to violate constitutional guarantees of equal protection under the law.

In the meantime, however, the vaguely worded amendment is destined to produce a stream of expensive litigation stretching well past the current legal horizon.

Backers of Issue 1 relied on religious fervor and anti-homosexual sentiment to get the measure into the state constitution. Now everyone, gay and straight, is going to have to pay the price.