Columbus--A bill has been introduced in the Ohio House to ensure that unmarried couples are not omitted from the state’s domestic violence law. But the measure would broaden the law to include casual roommates.
The 26-year-old domestic violence law gives special protections to a spouse, former spouse or “person living as a spouse,” either same-sex or opposite sex. Several judges have ruled, however, that Ohio’s new constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage voids the last category by barring recognition of unmarried couples.
State Rep. William J. Healy II, a freshman Democrat from Canton, introduced H.B. 161 on March 31 to change “person living as a spouse” to “any person who is residing with the [offender].”
Under the proposed language, which leaves “spouse” and “former spouse” unchanged, anyone who commits a violent act against someone they live with could be charged with domestic violence.
Healy’s bill would add some casual living arrangements previously not included in the law, such as roommates, prisoners who share a cell and people who share living space for even brief periods of time.
Under the bill, anyone living with someone who commits violence against them, or is believed to be dangerous, would be eligible for the protective court orders that the domestic violence statute provides for.
Judges have split on whether or not the current “living as a spouse” wording conflicts with the amendment, passed in November as Issue 1. The amendment prohibits legal recognition of “relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance or effect of marriage.”
The court rulings that say there is a conflict also put all unmarried couples, same-sex and opposite-sex, outside the reach of domestic violence protection.
So far, there has been no appeals court decision on the matter, but Healy says he didn’t want to wait.
“People need the protection now,” said Healy, adding that it is his responsibility as a legislator to carry out the will of the voters.
Healy acknowledges that most daily newspapers, domestic violence activists, and the campaign against Issue 1 all warned that the amendment could leave unmarried couples unprotected. But he points to a poll done in August by the anti-Issue 1 campaign.
That poll suggested that support for the amendment dropped substantially among voters who knew what the second sentence could do.
“People didn’t know what they voted for,” said Healy, adding that his bill was not against the will of the voters.
During his campaign last year, Healy opposed Issue 1 and also opposed the “defense of marriage act” passed earlier. The amendment passed 62 to 38 percent.
Healy’s bill has bipartisan sponsorship. His co-sponsors are Democrats Jeanine Perry of Toledo and Kenneth Carano of Austintown, and Republicans Clyde Evans of Rio Grande and Jim McGregor of Gahanna.
The bill was assigned to the Criminal Justice committee, on which Healy and Perry both sit.
That committee is chaired by Republican Bob Latta of Bowling Green. Other Republicans are David Evans of Newark, Danny Bubp of West Union, Stephen Bueher of Delta, Mike Gilb of Findlay, Ron Hood of Ashville, Jim Hughes of Columbus, Sally Conway Kilbane of Rocky River, Derrick Seaver of Minster, Bill Seitz of Cincinnati and John Willamowski of Lima.
The rest of the Democrats are Ranking Member Timothy DeGeeter of Parma, Dan Stewart of Columbus, Annie Key of Cleveland, Tyrone Yates of Cincinnati and Kenny Yuko of Richmond Heights.
A hearing schedule has not yet been set.
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