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Anti-Gay Marriage Amendment Would Also Legally “Divorce” Some Straight Couples

by David Badash on April 10, 2012

in Civil Rights,Discrimination,Marriage,News,Politics

An anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment in North Carolina would also have the effect of divorcing all legally-recognized heterosexual unions that are not marriage, impacting both benefits and domestic violence protections. Voters on May 8 will decide whether or not to write discrimination directly into North Carolina’s constitution, when they vote on the highly-controversial Amendment One. Many Republicans publicly and privately are against the ballot initiative.

Noting that there “is not a shred of empirical evidence out there that these amendments do anything positive for families,” Dr. Maxine Eichner, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law told Talking Points Memo:

“What we have here is untested language that would need to be interpreted by the courts,” Eichner said. “On its face, it would be interpreted with far-reaching effects.”

More from TPM:

If passed, Amendment One would establish marriage between a man and a woman as the only legally recognized union in the state — a sweeping distinction that would preclude legal recognition for all other domestic partnerships. The broad language of the amendment, which was passed by the Republican-controlled general assembly last fall, has opponents fearful that its passage could ultimately deny both benefits and domestic violence protections to thousands of unmarried North Carolina couples.

Supporters of Amendment One reject those notions and argue that it will simply codify existing law (the state already has a law banning same-sex marriage). They cite a 2004 Ohio law, which also denied legal recognition for civil unions, as an important precedent. The Supreme Court of Ohio eventually ruled that domestic violence statutes were compatible with the amendment, as such protections do not rise to the level of marriage. But Dr. Maxine Eichner, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law, says the fundamental difference between the respective amendments is in the language.

“[The Ohio amendment] prohibits anything that ‘approximates’ marriage,” Eichner told TPM. “Our amendment is much broader. It says you can’t recognize or validate these relationships at all.”

In the absence of any legal recognition, unmarried couples — whether gay or straight — could conceivably see courts invalidate their domestic violence protections. Eichner says it would depend on how judges read the amendment, but a broad interpretation is probable.

“What we have here is untested language that would need to be interpreted by the courts,” Eichner said. “On its face, it would be interpreted with far-reaching effects.”

Chris Fitzsimon, director of the progressive NC Policy Watch, agrees and envisions a clogging of the state’s court system in the years following the amendment’s passage. “At the very least, it will mean that our courts will be tied up for years trying to figure out what this law means for domestic violence cases,” Fitzsimon told TPM. “People really need to know that it is not just about same-sex marriage.”

Tom Kludt’s article at TPM is a bit long but entirely worthwhile. Take a look.

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