Lawmakers say domestic violence laws may change to apply to same - FOX Carolina 21

Lawmakers say domestic violence laws may change to apply to same-sex couples

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GREENVILLE, SC (FOX Carolina) -

Craig Metcalf is engaged and living with his fiance, Mark Gunnels.

"I asked him to marry me on our second anniversary of being together in a relationship," said Metcalf. "We're very happy, he's definitely the one."

And he's happy that now he can finally start planning their wedding, following a federal court's decision to overturn the ban on gay marriage in the Palmetto State."We think it will stick," said Metcalf.

 But with more rights afforded to same-sex couples, come more legal questions: What happens in a domestic violence situation involving two men, or two women?

"They're covered if they're married," said Senator Larry Martin, Chairman of the State House Judiciary Committee. Martin says the weighty charge of criminal domestic violence only applies to a legally joined same-sex couples, not same sex couples who are just living together.

The law clearly says the plaintiff and defendant have to be "household members," defined in the law as "a spouse, a former spouse, persons who have a child in common, or a male and female who are cohabiting or formerly have cohabited."

Same-sex couples just living together can only have the protection of a much less hefty assault and battery charge. Craig Metcalf says that should change.

"I think that if there is a class of relationship that isn't covered under the law, I think that's unfair. "At the very minimum, I think same-sex couples that are cohabiting deserve that right as well."

FOX Carolina obtained a memo from the Greenville County Sheriff's Office, issued by a captain to the entire department, which outlines procedures for answering same-sex domestic violence calls. It says CDV "does not apply to same sex couples that cohabitate." 

Assault and battery will be applied to those kinds of cases according to current state law. 

"Which is a lesser charge than criminal domestic violence because criminal domestic violence can be elevated," said Greenville Co. Solicitor Walt Wilkins.

"It's maybe something the legislature may need to look at, to catch up with the current state of marriage in South Carolina," Wilkins added.

With the statewide conversation on domestic violence, couples like Metcalf and Gunnels, who have fought for gay marriage in South Carolina, hope the legislature will take up this question.

But Senator Martin says he wants to hold off.

"I don't want to bring into the debate that we're having this year that particular issue, because it could bog down the discussion along those lines-the same-sex marriage controversy," said Martin. "And that's not something that I'm interested in taking on just yet."

However, activists and lawyers for activists, like Attorney John Reckenbeil, argue the debate over same-sex marriage is over, and say it is time to move on to the other legal questions that come with it.

"It just takes an amendment to that portion of the statute," said Reckenbeil. "So, I think that now that we recognize that same-sex couples have the same exact rights as heterosexual couples, we have to provide the same protections."

Even though Craig Metcalf does not foresee any domestic spats with his fiance, he still wants the protection he says the law should afford everyone.

"I think the whole point is to decrease violence, and decrease victimization in all relationships," said Metcalf.

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