Ohio v. Carswell
(We also participated as amicus in cases before intermediate appellate courts that involved the same issue: Ohio v. Burk; Ohio v. McIntosh; Ohio v. Nixon; Ohio v. Rodgers; Ohio v. Steineman; City of Cleveland v. Voies)
In late 2004 Ohio voters passed an antigay constitutional amendment (Article XV, Section 11) banning marriage for same-sex couples. Ohio v. Carswell is just one of numerous cases in which a criminal defendant argues that he cannot be prosecuted for domestic violence because he is not married to the person he is accused of abusing. Specifically, he claims that the amendment makes Ohio's domestic violence law unconstitutional when applied to nonmarital relationships. Lambda Legal participated in six of these domestic violence cases before intermediate appellate courts in order to instruct these courts on the proper way to interpret Ohio's antigay amendment, making clear that it does not leave unmarried people at risk in the face of domestic violence. Carswell is the first of these cases to reach the Ohio Supreme Court, and the court ruled that the amendment cannot be used to take away the rights of unmarried people and has no effect on the state's domestic violence law.
Although spiteful and discriminatory, Ohio's antigay constitutional amendment has no impact on Ohio's domestic violence law. According to its plain language, the amendment targets only those "legal statuses" that "approximate" marriage, but nothing in Ohio approximates marriage. The rights and respect marriage brings are unique and affect every aspect of life. All of the rights and responsibilities available to same-sex couples prior to the election, except marriage, remain legal in Ohio.
Lambda Legal's Impact
This case presented the Ohio Supreme Court's first opportunity to interpret the state's antigay constitutional amendment. We hope the court's ruling will limit future efforts by antigay organizations to bring additional cases attacking the families of gay and lesbian Ohioans.
- May 2005 Lambda Legal files friend-of-the-court brief before the 12th district appellate court.
- October 2005 Oral arguments heard.
- December 2005 Twelfth District appellate court rules in Lambda Legal's favor, stating that the domestic violence law creates no legal status that approximates marriage.
- February 2006 Carswell appeals to the Supreme Court of Ohio
- July 2006 Lambda Legal files friend-of-the-court brief in support of appellee state of Ohio.
- December 2006 Oral arguments heard.
- July 2007 Ohio Supreme Court rules that the state's antigay amendment has no effect on Ohio's criminal domestic violence law.
Alphonse A. Gerhardstein