South Carolina has seen its fair share of domestic violence cases; in past years, it has ranked number one or number two among all states for having the most women murdered by men in acts in domestic violence. While it has recently fallen to number five, the state continues to work on enacting stricter laws to make victims safer.
However, these statistics only include heterosexual couples, so they may not be telling the whole story. Since the Supreme Court declared gay marriage legal in all 50 states, it has become apparent that some state laws are not written to include same-sex couples. A woman in Richland County was denied a protective order against her fiancée, who had hit and choked her.
The court denied the protective order because the women’s fiancée was a woman and the statute is not written to include same-sex couples.
South Carolina’s domestic abuse laws protect “household members,” which are defined as:
- A current or former spouse;
- Two people who have had a child together;
- A man and woman who live together or who previously lived together.
Because the Richland County woman was not yet married, and was cohabitating with a woman, she was denied a protective order, despite the abusive situation she was facing in her home. This realization reveals that the statute, as it stands today, has become discriminatory to homosexual couples who currently cohabitate or who formerly lived together.
Equal Protection under the Law
Because the domestic violence laws exclude same-sex couples, police who respond to these calls concerning abuse generally file them as assault cases. Assault cases are obviously not tracked as domestic abuse cases, which skews the numbers of domestic violence incidents on same-sex couples. It also means that homosexual cohabitants are denied certain protections that the domestic abuse laws afford to the heterosexual couples in the same situation, as is evidenced by the Richland County woman’s denial of a protective order.
A protective order can be filed against a person to keep him or her from:
- Inflicting abuse on a household member;
- Attempting to inflict abuse on a household member; or
- Communicating with a household member.
The court can also exercise the right to order the respondent under a protective order to pay child support for any of his or her minor children that reside in the household; pay support to the petitioner; forbid the respondent from residing in the household while under the protective order; or award attorney’s fees as it sees fit. See the statute for the full list of the court’s rights.
South Carolina statutes declare it unlawful for one household member to physically abuse or attempt to physically abuse another household member, which is why it is so important that all people be protected under the law. All victims of domestic violence may feel safer knowing those who commit these acts can receive the following charges and convictions:
- Violating a protective order can result in a fine of up to $200 or 30 days in jail. If the violation is considered a contempt of court offense, it can result in a fine up to $1,500 or up to a year in jail.
- Persons who have been charged with or convicted of a domestic violence crime, or who are subjected to a protective order, may not enter a domestic violence shelter, nor may they even step foot on the property of such shelter. Anyone who does so is guilty of a misdemeanor and can receive a fine of up to $3,000 and/or a prison sentence of up to three years. If said person enters a domestic violence shelter or trespasses on the shelter’s property and is carrying a firearm at the time, that person is guilty of a felony and can receive a fine of up to $5,000 and/or a prison sentence or up to five years.
- A third-degree offense is a misdemeanor and can result in a fine of up to $2,500 and a prison sentence of up to 90 days.
- A second-degree offense is a misdemeanor and can result in a fine of up to $5,000 and a prison sentence of up to three years.
- A first-degree offense is a felony that can bring a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.
- Domestic violence of “a high and aggravated nature” is the most serious offense. It is a felony charge that can result in a prison sentence of up to 20 years. Persons convicted of domestic violence of an aggravated nature are also prohibited for life from possessing firearms or ammunition.
What Happens Now?
The South Carolina Supreme Court has reviewed the case for the Richland County woman who was denied a protective order, and it agrees that the statute is worded in a way that alienates unmarried same-sex couples who live together. The question now is, how does the state reverse this injustice?
According to an article in the Post and Courier, state lawmakers revised these laws two decades ago in a way that seemed to purposefully exclude same-sex couples, changing wording so that the laws protected couples made up of “a man and a woman” instead of “people.” While some people demand the laws be entirely rewritten, others, including state prosecutor Emory Smith, suggest that the laws be interpreted to include same-sex couples, rather than doing a huge re-write of the laws. This would mean the laws that say “man and woman” should be interpreted to mean “man or woman,” so that same-sex couples can also be protected under the laws. The Supreme Court justices have listened to all opinions and should hopefully make a ruling soon.
Talk to Robert Clark – A Trusted Attorney – Today
Regardless of how the law interprets your case, if you are in a same-sex relationship and you are being abused by your significant other, you need to get help before your situation gets worse. Contact a compassionate same-sex family law attorney in Greenville, such as Robert Clark, to see what can be done for you. Robert Clark has extensive experience with the South Carolina family courts, and he will work tirelessly to ensure your rights are not ignored. Call Robert Clark today.