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OUR VIEW: Gay or straight, people deserve protection from domestic abuse

There is a debate among South Dakota lawmakers as to whether the state's domestic abuse laws should apply to people in same-sex relationships.

To us, it's a simple issue. If two people are in a domestic relationship and one takes advantage of that relationship to abuse the other, that's wrong and potentially criminal. Whether the two people are of the opposite or same gender is irrelevant.

There are social conservatives in our state who view gay sex as a sin. They think that including same-sex relationships in domestic abuse laws would amount to an endorsement of homosexuality.

People who feel that way have a right to express their opinion, but the domestic abuse section of the state's laws is the wrong place to wage a culture war. Competing views of homosexuality as sinful or acceptable must be subjugated in this case to the greater good of equally protecting all people from violence in their relationships.

To exclude same-sex relationships from our state's domestic abuse laws would send the message that abuse can be justified if the perpetrator or victim is gay. While our state is certainly divided over the issue of sexual morality, we should all agree that physical, mental, verbal or other abuse of any person is wrong. And domestic abuse, gay or straight, deserves its own criminal classification because of the unique ways in which the abuser can manipulate the power structure in the relationship to perpetuate the abuse.

State Sen. Craig Tieszen, R-Rapid City, is a retired law enforcement officer and a voice of reason on this issue.

"It's clear to me everybody ought to be protected under the law," he was quoted as saying Monday by The Associated Press. "It doesn't matter to me what kind of relationship they're in as to whether they have protection under the domestic violence laws."

He's right, and we hope other legislators will come around to his side of the argument.

It is simply a fact that there are gay people in South Dakota living in domestic arrangements with each other, and pretending otherwise is not a good basis from which to legislate public safety. In fact, some gay couples in South Dakota have wed each other in other states and consider themselves married, even though South Dakota law does not recognize their union. It would be a stretch for anyone to assert that the abuse which occurs in such an obviously domestic relationship should not be considered domestic abuse by the law.

Furthermore, we cannot think of any good reason why abuse that already is considered criminal if carried out by a heterosexual person should be considered lawful if it's carried out by a homosexual person.

We'd argue that's discrimination against straight couples. Why should they be targeted for prosecution under a set of laws to which gay couples are immune?