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Advocates push gender-neutral domestic-violence laws

Men’s advocates say they have moved closer to their goal of gender-neutral domestic-violence laws in the past week.

First, a group of men who say they were battered and threatened by their wives got their day in court this past Friday. The four plaintiffs in Woods v. California say they were denied their constitutionally mandated equal protection as they sought shelter services and police safeguards.

Meanwhile, lobbyist Mike Robinson said that he has found multiple sponsors to draft legislation that would amend California’s domestic-violence laws to apply to “victims,” rather than only to women. He said the language has been approved by the Legislative Counsel. There are several Republicans who have said they are willing to sponsor the legislation, Robinson said, but he is trying to line up a Democratic co-author.

The Woods case was heard by Sacramento Superior Court Judge Lloyd Connelly. It does not seek any damages, but instead is meant to force gender-neutral law enforcement and services across key sections of the state’s government, health and penal codes.

While the lawsuit has a wider focus than his legislation–and he is not a plaintiff–Robinson said that in many ways they are working toward the same goal. He said that Connelly’s initial ruling and statements have shown that he is likely to agree that it is unconstitutional that California’s domestic-violence statutes can only apply to women.

“The message is real clear that the statute is going to get struck down,” Robinson said. “It would be in the Legislature’s best interests to reform it themselves.”

After the two-hour hearing, Connelly gave both sides until March 2 to reply to several issues that came up. He is asking the plaintiffs’ attorney, Marc Angelucci, to submit a supplemental brief addressing the plaintiffs’ legal right to bring suit, as well as answer some other technical questions.

Both Robinson and the Woods plaintiffs said that they are not trying to cut off services to battered women. The issue, they claim, is that there are next to no shelter services for battered men.

Plaintiff Ray Blumhorst said that his case began several years ago when his marriage was falling apart. His wife hit him with a bookstand when he wasn’t looking, he said, putting him on crutches and leaving him with a slight-but-permanent limp. Days later, when the police got involved, he was the one who got arrested, even though he’d never lifted a finger against his wife.
The reason, he said, is that as a 6’1″, 210-pound veteran, he looked far more intimidating than his average-sized wife. Sure he might have won a wrestling match against her, he said, but she was the one initiating violence–and increasingly using weapons.

“We’re not saying there aren’t a lot big, bad, abusive men out there,” Blumhorst said. “But there has been a very biased picture in the media and the law.”
Blumhorst said he sought shelter services for his own safety, but repeatedly was denied by shelters that received state funds but serve only women. He later sought services again, this time in order to prove his point for a legal case; that case was thrown out in March of 2005 by the Second District Court of Appeal, which ruled he lacked the legal standing to file a suit.

In October of 2005, he joined with three other plaintiffs who claim similar experiences. Angelucci said the four are merely seeking equal protection under the law–and this does not necessarily mean that women’s shelters be opened wholesale to men.

The problem, he said, is that there is a severe disparity in the services. There are 98 women’s shelters receiving state money, while there are only three shelters in California that accept men. One provides only hotel referrals; a men-only shelter in Yreka accepts no state funds.

“Men travel hundreds of miles because no one else will take them,” Angelucci said.
Underneath this legal issue is a festering mistrust between men’s and women’s advocates. Robinson and allies such as therapist John Hamel say that men have been involved in the helping the women’s shelter movement since it’s beginnings in Britain the early 1970s, but that it has been “hijacked by feminists” and turned “ideological.” This mistrust goes both ways.

“There is a definite sense that people are organizing to take away funding for violence against women’s services the same way affirmative action has been attacked,” said Jovida Guevara-Ross, executive director of Community United Against Violence. She said that arguments that domestic-violence rates are nearly the same between men and women ignore several important factions, including the greater physical harm usually inflicted on women.

CUAV works on domestic-violence issues in the gay and lesbian community. Many people have argued that the increasing prevalence of shelter services for gay men has also provided resources for straight men.

In fact, the National Coalition of Free Men, a group Blumhorst is involved in, tried to use a Rebecca Cohn bill on domestic violence in the gay and lesbian community to get the gender parity they seek. AB 2051 imposes a fee on the state’s domestic-partner registry to fund services for battered gay and lesbians, similar to the same way that women’s shelters get funding from state marriage licenses.

Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California, said that the Coalition’s efforts failed because they went against the intent of the bill and tried to tap the wrong source of funding.

Contact Malcolm Maclachlan at
malcolm.maclachlan@capitolweekly.net


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