What Exactly Does the Marriage Discrimination Amendment Have to Do With Domestic Violence?

Some readers of yesterday’s column asked a very reasonable question: what does the marriage discrimination amendment have to do with domestic violence?

It gets to the heart of an important point: the people who wrote the amendment and who are fighting so hard to see it passed haven’t thought about all of the damage their amendment will cause to North Carolina families.

In the state of Ohio, the passage of a very similar constitutional amendment to that being proposed in North Carolina forced there to be radical changes to how domestic violence was treated by the state. The Ohio amendment read as follows: ” 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 North Carolina version will on the ballot read: “Constitutional amendment to provide that marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.”

If marriage between a man and a woman is the only domestic legal union that the state of North Carolina recognizes, then they cannot recognize crimes that members of cohabitating romantic couples commit as “domestic violence.”  Similarly, in the state of Ohio, to recognize domestic violence between cohabitating romantic couples as domestic violence would be to “recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals.”

In Ohio, the passage of the Marriage Discrimination Amendment forced judges to release domestic batterers.  

A more detailed legal explanation can be found in be a June 2011 article by four UNC law professors entitled: “Potential Legal Impact of the Proposed Same-Sex Marriage Amendment to the North Carolina Constitution”

They find that the amendment could “invalidate protections against domestic violence to members of unmarried couple” and they explain the legal similarities between the Ohio and North Carolina amendments.  They note:

In State v. McKinley, the Ohio Court of Appeals held that the state of Ohio had unlawfully “recognized the legal status of cohabitation” by including in its domestic violence protections cohabiting unmarried couples.  …. A North Carolina court following the McKinley court’s rationale would find unconstitutional any legal protections accorded to unmarried couples under our more broadly-worded language, if the Amendment were to pass.

Published by Elena Botella

Elena Botella is a Duke Undergraduate in the Class of 2013, majoring in Economics and Math.

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