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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
March 18, 2005

Issue 1 doesn't affect home violence law, judge rules

Cleveland--A Cleveland Municipal Court judge has ruled that the Ohio Constitution�s new marriage ban amendment does not end domestic violence protection for unmarried couples.

The 12-page opinion is the first one where the alleged act of domestic violence occurred after the amendment took effect on December 2, 2004. Last month, a court declined to rule on a similar issue because the alleged incident occurred before then.

Judge Ronald B. Adrine�s reasoning in his March 10 decision is completely opposite that used by the earlier court to express a belief that the amendment probably does affect the domestic violence law.

The contradiction in legal interpretation ensures that more cases will follow in attempts to determine the marriage amendment�s impact on families headed by unmarried couples, both same-sex and opposite-sex.

At issue is the amendment�s second sentence, which bars recognition of �relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance or effect of marriage.� The domestic violence law applies to someone �living as a spouse� as well as spouses.

Adrine denied defendant Charles Knipp�s motion to dismiss his domestic violence charges on the basis that he is not married to his alleged victim.

The motion was essentially identical to the one filed in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Stuart A. Friedman�s court in January on behalf of defendant Darnell Forte.

Both are represented by the Cuyahoga County Public Defender. Both defendants lived with but are not married to their alleged victims, who are both women.

The cases are among the 10 to 20 in Cuyahoga County and a dozen more throughout the state where the defense has asked that domestic violence charges be dismissed because the couple is not married.

Friedman denied Forte�s motion to dismiss February 11 because the alleged incident took place in August, before the amendment was added to the constitution.

In doing so, Friedman dismissed the prosecution�s arguments that voters did not intend to leave unmarried couples unprotected by the domestic violence laws when they passed Issue 1. He called them �overly simplistic and ultimately unconvincing.�

In Knipp�s case, where the alleged incident took place ten days after the amendment took effect, Adrine found those same arguments very convincing.

�Many, if not a majority [of voters], lacked an understanding of the amendment�s full content and import when casting their ballots,� wrote Adrine, who opted instead to base his decision on a �critical look at the political climate existing in this state, and, for that matter, in the United States at the time the amendment was adopted.�

Three times, Adrine cited the web site of the anti-gay group that passed the amendment, the Ohio Campaign to Protect Marriage, including campaign statements to sway voters toward it . He did not mention opposing views on the Ohioans Protecting the Constitution site, some of which say the amendment could void domestic violence protection for unmarried couples.

�Definition of the word �marriage� was the primary purpose for the initiation of the amendment and appears plain on its face,� wrote Adrine. �That definition is clear and unambiguous and requires no further interpretation by this court.�

Adrine accepted the prosecution�s argument that the term �living as a spouse� required to trigger the domestic violence law is �merely descriptive.�

�It does not �create or recognize� a prohibited �legal status for relationships that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance or effect of marriage . . .� outlawed by the amendment,� wrote Adrine.

Adrine cited a 1997 Ohio Supreme Court decision, State v. Williams, that domestic violence �arises out of the relationship of the parties,� and that �the actual nature of the relationship, which is a broader concept than its legal status, controls the court�s determination of whether an allegation of domestic violence has been appropriately brought� on a �case-by-case analysis.�

�The language of [the domestic violence statutes] reflects the clear intent of the General Assembly at the time of enactment to include unmarried intimate partners such as the defendant and the complainant herein, in the class of people to be afforded protection and to be subject to sanction under Ohio�s domestic violence laws,� wrote Adrine.

Knipp�s attorney, David Eidenmiller, did not return calls for this report. At press time, no intent to appeal Adrine�s decision has been filed.

Knipp�s trial has been set for April 6.

 

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