By Sharon Gittleman
A Supreme Court of Ohio ruling gives hope to those fighting for LGBT rights in Michigan.
In State v. Carswell, a man charged with domestic abuse claimed he could not be tried for that crime, since it only applied to married couples – and he wasn’t wed to the woman he lived with. He based his argument on Ohio’s one-man, one-woman marriage amendment.
The Supreme Court overturned lower court decisions previously issued in his favor.
Bo Shuff, director of education and public policy for Equality Ohio, the statewide education and advocacy organization for the LGBT community, said the court’s ruling was a mixed blessing.
While it barred civil unions, an outcome many LGBT supporters didn’t welcome, unmarried couples’ access to laws defending them from violence in their own homes was preserved, he said.
“It would have set a dangerous precedent,” said Sean Kosofsky, director of policy for Michigan’s Triangle Foundation. “We applaud the court for its sensible reasoning and hope more courts around the country won’t be conned into making these marriage bans into more than they already are.”
Jay Kaplan, staff attorney with the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, said the court’s reasoning was sound.
“When you’re saying these people are covered by the domestic violence law, you’re not creating something that’s a marriage or anything legally similar to a marriage,” said Kaplan. “It’s like our situation in Michigan: When a public employer provides health insurance to domestic partners of employees, they’re not creating a marriage. It’s created no legal status.”
The Michigan Supreme Court doesn’t have to follow the Ohio court’s decision when it reviews the Michigan marriage amendment to determine how it affects domestic partnership benefits, said Kaplan. It may take the same path, however.
Kaplan thinks many voters didn’t understand the effect of their decision when they cast their ballets in support of the amendment in 2004.
“We don’t believe voters intended to take away health insurance from people and their families,” he said.