York County judge rules same-sex couples protected under domestic violence law

Ruling is the second S.C. case establishing precedent to protect LGBTQ couples’ rights

YORK, S.C.—In the second recent historic ruling coming out of South Carolina, a York County judge has convicted a gay man of domestic violence against his husband. The ruling establishes a precedent nationwide that same-sex couples are entitled to the same protection against abuse as heterosexual couples have.

The incident occurred in 2016, when the victim reported to police that his husband hit him and then intentionally crashed into his car. Another witness also testified to the police. The suspect was indicted on a charge of first degree domestic violence because the two men were married, but he was convicted of third-degree domestic violence, the least extreme degree of the crime.

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The defendant was sentenced to six months’ probation and court-mandated counseling to prevent further incidents. His lawyer, York County Assistant Public Defender Charles Rudnick, told The Herald that the decision was fair.

“This may be the first trial of its kind in York County, but it is a reflection of the law as it is,” Rudnick said. “And the jury, in rendering a verdict of the lesser degree of domestic violence, accepted and applied the law. The charge of domestic violence applies to same-sex married couples, and we defend our clients against criminal charges regardless of sexual orientation.”

“A spouse is a spouse,” argued the prosecutor, Leslie Robinson. “This was the first arrest in York County after the law changed, and the first trial.”

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Before same-sex marriage was legalized nationwide in 2015, the charge would have been assault, with a lesser penalty. The conviction is the first of its kind and may enable other LGBTQ victims of domestic violence to seek the full protection of the law, the same as heterosexual victims.

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence asserts that “the one constant component of domestic violence is one partner’s consistent efforts to maintain power and control over the other. Domestic violence is an epidemic affecting individuals in every community, regardless of age, economic status, sexual orientation, gender, race, religion, or nationality.” People of any walk of life can receive 24/7 assistance through the Hotline’s website at 1-800-799-7233.

The York County conviction is the second court acknowledgement of same-sex couples’ rights to come out of South Carolina recently. The first acknowledged that a common-law marriage between same-sex partners is valid and entitles the partners to equal rights upon a breakup: alimony and division of shared property, among others.

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