Column One:
Eye on Unmarried America

July 30,  2007  



One victory, one loss for the unmarried this month

By Thomas F. Coleman

Unmarried Americans scored one win and suffered one setback this month.  The legal victory occurred in Ohio while the political loss happened in Rhode Island.

The Ohio Supreme Court ruled on July 25 that unmarried couples are protected under that state's domestic violence law. 

With only one dissent, the justices rejected an argument that the domestic violence law did not apply to unmarried couples because the law refers to them as living together "as a spouse." 

The Ohio Defense of Marriage Amendment states that the state of Ohio "shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals." The domestic violence statute included abusers "living as a spouse" as domestic violence offenders.

The ruling involved the case of a man accused of assaulting his live-in girlfriend.  His defense attorney argued that the defendant could not be charged with domestic violence because the state constitution's ban on gay marriage prohibits the state from assigning legal status to unmarried couples.

"The state does not create cohabitation; rather it is a person's determination to share some of life's responsibilities with another that creates cohabitation," Chief Justice Thomas Moyer wrote for the court's majority. "The state does not have a role in creating cohabitation, but it does have a role in creating a marriage."

The case was being monitored closely by domestic violence prevention advocates and civil liberties groups across the nation.  Twenty-seven states have constitutional language defining marriage as between a man and a woman, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Sue Else, president of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, called the Ohio ruling "a huge victory for domestic violence victims across the country."

Meanwhile, Rhode Island Gov. Don Carcieri vetoed a bill that would have required health insurers in that state to extend their coverage of infertility diagnosis and treatment to single women.  Under current law, insurers are required to cover 80% of infertility treatments for married women.

"As a matter of public policy, the state should be encouraging the birth of children to two-parent families, not the reverse," Carcieri said in his veto message.  "By removing the marriage requirement, the legislation forces health insurance companies to subsidize out-of-wedlock births."

"There are people living in commitment relationships, whether they are heterosexual or lesbian, who also provide a very good home life for children," Rep. Edith Ajello, responded.  "I don't think the state should be getting involved with who could be parents and who cannot."

Democrats hold veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate and often override the conservative Republican governor.  But whether lawmakers will exercise their override power on a socially touchy issue such as this remains to be seen.

As I mentioned in an earlier column, one professional organization has taken a stand against marital status discrimination by health care providers.

A report by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine concluded that denying fertility services to single people is unethical.  Before reaching this conclusion, the society considered the reproductive interests of unmarried people, the interests of the children, and the interest of service providers in deciding who to treat and who not to treat.

Ultimately, the society found no sound ethical basis for licensed professionals to deny reproductive services to would-be parents because of their marital status or sexual orientation.

The Center for Disease Control reports that 16 percent of fertility clinics in the United States will not treat single women. So it would appear that legislation mandating equal access by married and unmarried people to fertility treatment is necessary.

Hopefully, the Democrats in the Rhode Island Legislature will exercise their veto override power to outlaw such discrimination by health care providers.

To read other editions of Column One, click here.

Unmarried America 2007

Thomas F. Coleman, Executive Director of Unmarried America, is an attorney with 33 years of experience in singles' rights, family diversity, domestic partner benefits, and marital status discrimination.  Each week he adds a new commentary to Column One: Eye on Unmarried America. E-mail: Unmarried America is a nonprofit information service for unmarried employees, consumers, taxpayers, and voters.