EDITORIAL: Doing violence to state domestic violence laws
Women who are in abusive relationships better duck and cover for the time being, based on a ruling of the South Carolina Supreme Court.
Without really intending to, we suspect, the high court leaves a large number of women who are in horrific relationships without legal recourse, based on a ruling in Doe vs South Carolina. (We say “women” only because, traditionally, women have suffered this violence more often than men, but we acknowledge, men can be victims of domestic violence.)
The Supreme Court tried to do the right thing. The justice who wrote the opinion said state lawmakers have written laws to protect opposite-sex couples, and current law is evolving. On its website, the Supreme Court says this:
27728-Doe v. State
The Court granted Jane Doe's petition for original jurisdiction to consider whether the definition of "household member" in S.C. Code Ann. § 16-25-10(3) (Supp. 2015) of the Domestic Violence Reform Act and S.C. Code Ann. § 20-4-20(b) (2014) of the Protection from Domestic Abuse Act are unconstitutional under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. Because we find the definition violates the Equal Protection Clause, the offending subsections are stricken from both acts.
Striking that section basically means open season on some women who are in abusive relationships.
The intent was to say same-sex couples are entitled to the same criminal domestic violence protections as opposite-sex couples - and that’s a good thing. There is a wrinkle with striking down part of the law, however, and where that action leaves the definition of “co-habitation.”
In any event, the legislature’s probably going to have to fix it - and that could take years.
SC Attorney General Alan Wilson is going to seek a remedy. He and attorneys for the winning “Doe” side issued a joint statement, saying in part:
“All of the parties involved in the matter of Doe v. State want to thank the justices of the South Carolina Supreme Court for their hard work and willingness to hear this important issue. The petitioner, her lawyers, and the Attorney General agree that all couples, regardless of sexual orientation should be protected by South Carolina’s domestic violence law, which is what the Court rightfully ruled.”
The way the court actually ruled, however, more victims, such as unmarried couples living together, are vulnerable, experts say.
"As we said in our brief to the Supreme Court, our concern is that striking down the ‘cohabitation’ definition would deny (Jane Doe) the very relief she seeks, and remove protections for opposite-sex cohabiting couples as well,” Wilson said in a Post and Courier (Charleston) interview.
Make no mistake about it, this is a landmark ruling by the South Carolina Supreme Court. It acknowledges that same-sex couples have rights to protection under state law - just as they do under federal law.
However, also make no mistake about this, the South Carolina General Assembly is not going to want to expand those protections. South Carolina is far from a “gay-friendly” state, despite the fact that we side-stepped the disaster of North Carolina’s action on bathrooms. We were targeted for boycotts because we flew the Confederate Flag. Our neighbors to the north were targeted for boycotts because the State Legislature thought the Charlotte City Council was getting too big for its breeches, when it ruled that people who identify as women should be able to use the women’s bathroom, and people identifying as men should be able to use the men’s bathroom.
Then-Gov. Nikki Haley said we did not have that problem in South Carolina and that was that. Truth is, we don’t have room for any more problems in South Carolina, so why create more, and we don’t have a trend-setting city like Charlotte.
In the latest domestic violence ruling, S.C. chief justice Donald Beatty issued a warning, namely that protections would “no longer be available to opposite-sex couples who are cohabiting or formerly have cohabited. ... Such a decision would result in grave consequences for victims of domestic abuse. To leave these victims unprotected for any length of time would be a great disservice to the
citizens of South Carolina.”
Certainly, and emphatically, we concur.