Monday, August 27, 2007

Conservative groups fights lesbian divorce

Conservative group fights lesbian 'divorce'
By Cheryl Wetzstein | Published Aug/16/2007 | Family and Society , North America | Rating:
Back-door entrance to recognition of same sex 'marriage'

By Cheryl Wetzstein
The Washington Times

WASHINGTON -- The Rhode Island Supreme Court should rule that a lesbian couple who "married" in Massachusetts can't get "divorced" in Rhode Island because such an act would legalize same-sex "marriage" in the state, say court papers filed by a conservative legal defense organization.

"Rhode Island should not allow same-sex 'divorce' to become a back-door entrance to the recognition of same sex 'marriage,' " said Austin Nimocks, an attorney for the Alliance Defense Fund, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief this month in the case of Margaret Chambers and Cassandra Ormiston.

The federal Defense of Marriage Act says states don't have to recognize out-of-state same-sex "marriages," and a policy of "comity," in which state courts respect one another's acts, "is not mandatory," Mr. Nimocks said in the brief, filed on behalf of the Family Research Council and the Rev. Lyle Mook of Rhode Island.

In separate briefs, Rhode Island Gov. Donald L. Carcieri, a Republican, and Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch, a Democrat, agreed that courts can grant a divorce even if a marriage is "void" or "voidable by law." Mr. Carcieri said state marriage law clearly refers to unions of a man and a woman and any change must be decided by voters or lawmakers. Mr. Lynch, however, said Rhode Island should recognize same-sex "marriages" conducted in Massachusetts because of Rhode Island's nondiscrimination law and state comity.

The American Civil Liberties Union, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, Marriage Law Foundation, the Most Rev. Thomas J. Tobin, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence, and Becket Fund for Religious Liberty also filed briefs in preparation for an October court hearing.

In May 2004, Miss Chambers and Miss Ormiston, who live in Providence, R.I., joined hundreds of other homosexual couples seeking marriage licenses in Massachusetts. In October last year, the couple filed for "divorce."

Chief Judge Jeremiah S. Jeremiah Jr. of the Rhode Island Family Court asked the high court to determine whether he had the authority to hear the case. The high court responded by asking for facts about the women's "marriage" and whether the Family Court could "properly recognize" it "for the purpose of entertaining a divorce petition."

Questions remain about the legality of the women's "marriage." In 2004, Massachusetts officials disallowed any same-sex "marriage" of out-out-state residents, citing a law enacted in 1913 that prohibits Massachusetts from marrying out-of-state couples if that marriage is illegal in their home state. Last year, the 1913 law was upheld and interpreted to mean that homosexual couples from states that expressly forbid same-sex "marriage" can't "marry" in Massachusetts. But last year, a Massachusetts judge ruled that Rhode Island law didn't have such a prohibition.

The Chambers-Ormiston case marks the first time Rhode Island judges are addressing the issue.

1 comment:

Elizabeth Schmitz said...

From Schmitz Blitz:

I thought it was interesting that the lawyers for the women are stressing that this case would have no bearing on same sex marriage in Rhode Island. I beg to differ. The right to a legal divorce is, perhaps ironically, one of the most important benefits of legal marriage. It provides a legal (and the fairest possible) framework for couples to separate their shared assets and lives.

It is my hope that this is yet another incremental step towards the recognition of gay marriages in Rhode Island. I think it is a wise choice that the women’s lawyers are steering clear from the topic. If the state legislature works the way it is supposed to, it should, at some point, address the problems of denying gay couples legal equality (as demonstrated by this case) by granting full marriage equality.

Until then, I think it’s best the courts refrain from finding in favor of gay marriage. They should continue to correct the real inequalities that gay couples face by being denied the right to marry. Maybe then, when straights realize that gay unions are the functional equivalent to heterosexual marriages, they will not feel as passionate as many are now about denying the word ‘marriage’ to gays.