Marriage Amendment v. Domestic Violence Statute
For the second time this month, an appeals court in Lima has ruled that Ohio's domestic violence law is unconstitutional under terms of a Defense of Marriage Amendment voters approved in 2004. The 2-1 decision from the 3rd Ohio District Court of Appeals is the latest in a series of similar cases from around the state, one of which already is beginning to move through the Ohio Supreme Court for resolution. The Justices voted 5-2 in April to accept an appeal from Warren County in which the 12th Ohio District Court of Appeals upheld the domestic violence law. The appellate panel in that case overturned a trial judge who ruled the law was unconstitutional as applied to an unmarried individual. (For the Supreme Court of Ohio docket sheet, go to the Clerk's page and search for case number 2006-0151)
In dispute is the effect of an amendment to the Ohio Constitution that defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman. It also bars the state from creating or recognizing a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design of marriage.
Five state appellate courts, including those covering Cuyahoga and Franklin counties, that have considered challenges to the domestic violence law have found it constitutional notwithstanding the marriage amendment.
District appellate courts in Dayton and Lima, however, have ruled the domestic violence statute unconstitutional as a result of the amendment. There are 12 appellate districts statewide.
In the latest case from the 3rd District, the panel reversed the domestic violence conviction of David Shaffer in Union County that involved his live-in girlfriend. The charge was elevated to a felony of the third degree due to the defendant's two previous convictions in Virginia for assault and battery against a family member.
Defense attorneys argued on appeal that the domestic violence law was in part unconstitutional because it defines a "family or household member" as being a "person living as a spouse" in violation of the marriage validity amendment.
As it did just over a week ago in a similar case, the appellate majority found the domestic violence law unconstitutional when applied to individuals in Mr. Shaffer's position.Later