The Ohio Supreme Court had its first opportunity to interpret the reach of the state’s antigay amendment banning marriage for same-sex couples, as it applies to domestic violence cases. It decided that unmarried people need and require protection when they are abused.
After Ohio voters passed an antigay amendment to the state’s constitution in 2004, a string of domestic violence cases cropped up. Criminal defendants attempted to use the language of the amendment to argue that they could not be prosecuted for domestic violence because they were not married to the person they were accused of abusing. Lambda Legal stepped in and submitted friend-of-the-court briefs in seven of these cases arguing that the defendants could not interpret the antigay amendment so broadly.
The Ohio Supreme Court, after examining the amendment’s language, agreed with us. The amendment directs the state to “not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance or effect of marriage.” In its decision, the court made clear that giving unmarried people protection from abuse in no way constitutes a relationship that “approximates” marriage.
“We are thrilled that the court did not take the bait, and came to the obvious and correct conclusion that this amendment has no effect on the state’s domestic violence law,” says James P. Madigan, staff attorney in Lambda Legal’s Midwest Regional Office in Chicago. “The decision makes clear that Ohio’s antigay amendment cannot be used to attack individual benefits and protections. The court sent a strong message to those who would attempt to use the amendment to attack health insurance benefits for families, or the relationships between children and their same-sex parents: you can’t get away with this.”
While antigay amendments that bar same-sex couples from marriage are presented as efforts to “protect heterosexual marriage,” the reality is that once they are passed, the floodgates are opened to attacks on all rights for the LGBT community. We hope the court’s ruling will limit future efforts by antigay organizations to bring additional cases attacking the families of gay and lesbian Ohioans.