Monday, July 14, 2008

SJC ruling clarifies extent of same-sex marriage benefits - Local News Updates - The Boston Globe

SJC ruling clarifies extent of same-sex marriage benefits - Local News Updates - The Boston Globe

By David Abel, Globe Staff

The state Supreme Judicial Court has ruled that marriage benefits for same-sex couples don't extend back to a time before the justices legalized gay marriage in the state.

The ruling, released today, was part of a malpractice case brought by Michelle Charron and Cynthia Kalish, who had lived as a couple for more than a decade before marrying in 2004, when the court legalized same-sex marriage.

Charron was diagnosed with breast cancer the year before they were married. She died in 2006. Kalish, who sought compensation for the loss of marital companionship, contended that the couple would have married earlier had it been legal.

But the court ruled that allowing Kalish to sue would spark other lawsuits. The justices also said that allowing Kalish to sue would weaken the legal rights of married couples.

“The circumstances of this case are moving, a vivid reminder of the constitutional mandate of equality under the law, and the costs imposed when society falls short of that mandate,” Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall wrote in a concurring opinion. “But the relief the plaintiff seeks … would erase the bright line between civil marriage and other forms of relationship that has heretofore been carefully preserved by the Legislature and our prior decisions."

Marshall added: “Granting such relief would create in effect a common-law or de facto quasi marital status that would promote litigation, permit judges to select from among marital benefits to which quasi marital couples might or might not be entitled, create uncertainty in the private as well as the public sphere about who is (or was) quasi married and for what purpose, and undercut the Legislature's role in defining the qualifications and characteristics of civil marriage.”

Kathy Jo Cook, a Boston attorney who represented Charron, said she was “sad” about the ruling.

“We’re sad the SJC refused to extend the basic protections of marriage to this same-sex family, but we’re pleased that the court stands by its decision in Goodridge, that it made clear that this is a tragic set of circumstances, and the reminder of equality under the law," she said.

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