Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Judge OKs same-sex couple's divorce | pressconnects.com | Press & Sun-Bulletin

Judge OKs same-sex couple's divorce | pressconnects.com | Press & Sun-Bulletin

By Eric Reinagel • ereinage@gannett.com • Staff Writer • March 31, 2009

BINGHAMTON - In what appears to be the first ruling of its kind, a state Supreme Court judge in Broome County has allowed a same-sex Binghamton couple to divorce.

New York doesn't allow same-sex marriages, but state Justice Molly R. Fitzgerald allowed Lauren Wells-Weiss to divorce her partner, Shari Weiss. The two married Aug. 13, 2004, in Toronto, after a private religious ceremony before family and friends in Ithaca in 2001.

The case is paradoxical, said both women's attorneys, because in their opinion the judge recognized the lesbian couple was married, although New York state law doesn't allow same-sex marriages.

Gay-rights advocates say they are increasingly optimistic same-sex marriages will become law in New York, but legislation in the state Senate hasn't received enough votes.

Gov. David A. Paterson last May signed a directive to recognize gay marriages performed in other states. That gave same-sex couples 1,324 rights in New York that were previously afforded only to heterosexual couples, including workers' compensation benefits if a spouse dies.

Wells-Weiss said she receive $3,100 in a settlement, but she was told by the judge to vacate and turn over the couple's former home, which they bought in 2004.

Unlike most married couples who jointly own their home, Lauren Wells-Weiss and Shari Weiss weren't entitled to sign the title with equal rights of possession.

Instead, Weiss had the liability on the mortgage, said her attorney Joseph Meagher. That triggered a legal process known as a partition action, which he described as his client foreclosing on the property from Wells-Weiss.

If same-sex marriage were legal in New York or if the couple had been allowed to change the deed after their marriage in Canada, the house could have been considered a part of the divorce, said Wells-Weiss' attorney Judith Osburn.

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