Pay Attention to the Details … Vote NO and Do No Harm
Please Pay Attention to the Details!
The proposed Marshall-Newman Amendment to Virginia’s Constitution
By Shani L. Cotton
Sexual Violence Services Coordinator
As a citizen of Virginia, an employee of the Virginia Sexual & Domestic Violence Action Alliance (www.vsdvalliance.org), and most importantly, a survivor of domestic violence, I write to encourage voters to closely read the details of the proposed Marshall-Newman Amendment and think critically about its potential impact on Virginia’s citizens.
In Virginia, same-sex marriage, civil unions, and domestic partnerships are already illegal. It is also presently true in Virginia that critical legal protections are available to victims of domestic violence and currently, “victims” includes people who are married, unmarried with a child in common, living together, and also in some Virginia communities, even same-sex partners (all identified by Virginia law as “family and/or household members”).
If you read the amendment’s second paragraph, you will find an alarming launch pad for judicial confusion. In the proposed amendment, Virginia will no longer “create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance, or effects of marriage”. A huge leap it is not to see judicial interpretation resulting in unmarried victims’ legal status as a “family or household member” negated across Virginia’s courtrooms. Ultimately this may lead to victims of domestic violence becoming ineligible to access legal protections. And eventually it will lead to costly legal battles and appeals debating the constitutionality of charging someone for pummeling another with whom they have intimately lived and perhaps procreated, but not legally married.
The language is very similar to that of an amendment passed in Ohio 2 years ago. Ohio defense attorneys have argued that treating unmarried domestic violence victims the same as married victims gives them a legal status, and “approximates the design, qualities, significance or effects of marriage” and is therefore, unconstitutional. Many of the attorneys using these arguments have won their cases on these grounds! It is more than intelligent deduction that forecasts defense attorneys in Virginia will use this argument as well.
In 2003, the Virginia Crime Commission studied protective orders issued in Virginia. There were approximately 43,000 issued that year. In addition, Virginia’s domestic violence programs report that 50-60% of the victims they serve are not married to their batterer. Applying that percentage to the number of protective orders issued, the amendment could likely result in an estimated 22,000 victims each year turned away and determined ineligible to even petition for a protective order. An important note to make here is that this number only represents adult victims. Now, take 22,000 a year and add just an average number of children per victim. This is atrocious and frightening!
Further, it could take at least 3 years for cases to begin reaching the Supreme Court of Virginia for final ruling. Meanwhile, at least 22,000 batterers are freed and their behavior affirmed—and the message to them very clear: In Virginia, it’s perfectly fine to physically attack the one you love, as long as you don’t marry them.”
Meanwhile, an estimated 66,000 Virginia victims PLUS their children are denied legal protection!
It’s truly very simple.
Voting yes will change things except one. Voting yes means people who identify as gay or lesbian still cannot marry just as they couldn’t before this amendment. But what it does mean is a systematic re-victimization of victims and their children who are already unprotected—even in their own homes—by refusing legal protection. Yes means Virginia is willing to literally risk tens of thousands of lives in order to redundantly reinforce one set of values. Yes means Virginia cares more about protecting some people’s values than it does about protecting it’s people—it’s women and children especially.
On the other hand, voting NO changes nothing. It still means people who are gay or lesbian can’t marry. It means that victims and their children still have access to legal protections. It can mean the difference between being safe and not. Unfortunately for some, it literally can mean the difference between life and death. Voting NO means Virginia is taking a stand and making it clear that it cares most about its people, and we will protect not only this generation, but beyond.
It’s our choice Virginia. I implore you, PLEASE VOTE NO!