Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Does law affect domestic violence?
People debate whether the marriage measure means unwed victims of domestic violence can't get the help they need.
- Could a constitutional amendment on marriage have unintended consequences?
- Does law affect domestic violence?
- Marriage amendment fight evident on campuses
One of the pivotal debates in the proposed constitutional amendment on marriage is its possible effect on Virginia's domestic violence protections.
The referendum, which requires a majority vote for passage, would ban same-sex marriages, civil unions and domestic partnerships. It also would block Virginia governments from recognizing relationships that imitate marriage, or that "approximate the designs, qualities, significance or effects of marriage."
Radford University criminal justice professor Mary Atwell worries the amendment could affect unmarried victims of domestic violence.
During a panel discussion Sept. 25 on campus, Atwell said Ohio passed an amendment similar to the one proposed in Virginia. She said Ohio defense attorneys have used the law to block unwed victims of domestic violence from being granted protective orders.
"This is an issue we need to be aware of," Atwell said. The amendment "has been written in such broad terms that it has consequences."
Judges have issued different rulings on whether Ohio's 2004 amendment blocks unmarried people from being charged with domestic violence. The state's Supreme Court is expected to decide this fall whether domestic violence laws still apply to the unwed.
Virginia's current domestic violence law protects spouses, ex-spouses, couples living together and those with a child in common.
Mary Beth Pulsifer is a community outreach coordinator at the Women's Resource Center in Radford, which serves about 150 women each year.
She's said she's concerned with how the amendment would define "family" or "household member" -- and how people would be eligible for protective orders and protection from abuse by a family member if the measure passes.
"Currently in Virginia, on a third conviction for assault by a family or household member, the severity of the crime increases from the misdemeanor to a felony," Pulsifer said. "There is a concern that those increased penalties would be challenged in the cases of unmarried couples."
But George Mason University law professor Ronald Rotunda said the proposed amendment will not change the domestic violence laws. Lawyers can make any argument they want, he said, but he does not believe a judge would deny protection to victims.
"The laws of assault and battery are still around," he said. "The intent ... is not to authorize domestic violence of anyone, whatever their sexual orientation is."
pamela.podger @roanoke.com 981-3131