Politics & Government
6:10 am
Mon April 23, 2012

Amendment Opponents Say It Threatens Domestic Violence Protections

Opponents of a proposed amendment to the state constitution banning same-sex marriage and civil unions say the measure is written too broadly. Among the effects they claim it could have is the invalidation of domestic violence protections for unmarried couples. Amendment supporters call that a scare tactic.


Isaac-Davy Aronson: Both sides point to the experience of Ohio to support their cases. After that state passed an amendment banning same-sex marriage in 2004, judges overturned several domestic violence convictions of men who had abused their girlfriends. Those judges interpreted the amendment to mean that relationships other than heterosexual marriage couldn't be recognized for the purpose of giving rights and benefits.

Supporters of North Carolina's amendment point out the Ohio Supreme Court eventually upheld the state's domestic violence protections. But Jen Jones of Equality NC says, that took almost three years.

Jen Jones: Are we willing to take three years, with the potential that batterers would be more easily released from jail in the first 48 hours, that they would be released from jail altogether to go back home, that restraining orders that would normally be in place to protect unmarried women, children and families all across this state would no longer be valid?

Tami Fitzgerald: Well of course all that is a great deal of speculation, it's what if, what if, what if.

Tami Fitzgerald is chairwoman of the pro-amendment group Vote for Marriage NC.

Tami Fitzgerald: The fact that none of the other 30 states have ever decided that domestic violence protections were interrupted by passing a marriage amendment is more weighty than the fact that one state did for 2 years.

However, UNC Law professor Maxine Eichner, who authored a study of the North Carolina amendment's potential impacts, says this amendment is written more broadly than Ohio's.

Maxine Eichner: If our courts were to use the same rationale that the Ohio courts used, the protections would fall in North Carolina based on our far broader language in the amendment.

Eichner says there's no way to predict if North Carolina courts would strike down all or only some of the state's specific categories of domestic violence protections or indeed if any court challenges would be brought at all.