Court Lacks Power To End Massachusetts Marriage

No Divorce For RI Lesbians

Margaret Chambers and Cassandra Ormiston remain unhappily married. Rhode Island’s Supreme Court ruled 3-2 today not to dissolve the couples 2004 marriage:

[The Court] said the state’s family court lacks the authority to grant the divorce of a same-sex couple.

Cassandra Ormiston and Margaret Chambers wed in Massachusetts in 2004 after that state became the first to legalize same-sex marriages. The couple filed for divorce last year in Rhode Island, where they both live.

Perhaps the ladies should consider moving to Massachusetts for a few months.

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  • Jason

    That really sucks. My partner and I got married in Mass. this year. Even though RI kinda-sorta recognizes our marriage, clearly there are some wrinkles to work out legally. I was really hoping the RI courts would allow the divorce proceedings, because it would mean they are giving full legal recognition to Mass. marriages. But obviously that’s not the case. The legal status of RI residents married in Mass. is now really unclear. Which sucks for us and others in the state.

  • Jaroslaw

    I agree- this sucks, Jason. I went to a close-up thing in high school. On the bus I sat next to a girl from Australia. Most of the rest of the world thinks we are pretty crazy having a million different state laws and hundreds of thousands of different school boards, each making different, contradictory decisions!

    In some ways, I’m for individuality, but if you are married in Mass., the full faith and credit clause of the Constitution MUST apply here. I wonder how many years it will take to wind its way through the courts though….

  • ProfessorVP

    Does anybody- you listening Obama?- need more proof that there is nothing that equals marriage that has a different name than marriage?

  • Jaroslaw is absolutely right

    How the hell can these states blatantly get away with not recognizing marriages legitimately made in another state, given the full faith and credit clause of the Constitution? Good luck with trying to get out of ANY other contract made under another state’s laws by simply moving to antoher state.

  • Franklin Turdz

    I dunno – i can see how they refuse to recognize the marriage. It would be similar to refusing to recognize drivers’ licenses for illegals. States should have some discretion over what they accept, no?

  • Jason

    The reason the full faith and credit clause doesn’t apply is DOMA, which Clinton incidentally signed.

  • Jason

    What makes the RI case weird here is that the RI attorney general in Feb said that Mass. marriages are valid in RI. And that still might be true (we don’t know yet), but this latest ruling suggests that Mass. marriages aren’t fully valid, or at least that the Family Court doesn’t have jurisdiction to consider them valid. What this means, say, for state and local taxes or the million of other issues RI residents will have to face is now unclear. Does RI see us as married or not? The fact is we really don’t know. Weird, huh?

  • Jaroslaw

    Is DOMA an amendment to the constituion? If not I would say then it is an illegal “law” just like laws about burning the flag. It might be distasteful, but one cannot pass laws abridging free speech.

  • Jaroslaw

    sorry, on further thought DOMA couldn’t be an amendment to the Constitution – that has to be ratified by 2/3 of the states etc. Like the equality amendment that didn’t quite make it.

  • Adam Michael Kratt

    Jaroslaw, DOMA is a Christian Republic slap in the face to civil rights and liberties for the LGBTQ in the United States. Oh and as a side note.. all laws about burning the flag were voided by the U.S. Supreme Court. As long as the flag you burn is your private property you can burn it.

    I think what should be challenged is that if a state under doma can refuse to recognize a same sex marriage from another state.. then they should also have to refuse to recognize a straight marriage from that same state.

  • Jason

    Um, I think you guys are confused about the full faith and credit thing. There are lots of exceptions to it. See the wiki article on it.

    It’s possible that DOMA would be ruled unconstitutional because of the full faith and credit thing, but I sorta doubt it. In any case, the RI case has nothing to do with full faith and credit or DOMA.

    This is because RI has no law explicitly prohibiting same-sex marriage–the only state besides Mass. Since Mass. will only marry couples if that marriage is legal in their state of residence, Mass. judges had to determine whether RI would acknowledge same-sex marriage. They asked the attorney general of RI to issue an opinion on this. The AG said RI WOULD accept the Mass. marriage licenses. The Mass. court then issued a ruling saying that only Mass. and RI residents could apply for same-sex marriage licenses.

    So that was the state of play as of yesterday. Then, out of the blue, the RI supreme court is now saying that the RI family court doesn’t have jurisdiction to consider same-sex couples married in Mass. as married in RI. This *doesn’t* mean that RI doesn’t consider the couples married, only that the family court can’t consider them married (basically bc the law that created the family court only meant to cover opp-sex couples).

    This throws a wrench into *everything*. Did the law creating marriage tax credits in RI mean to cover same-sex couples? Obviously not. But why should this matter? Now that the standard is original intent, we may see every marriage right associated with marriage evaporate for same-sex couples–even though RI apparently accepts Mass. licenses!! Talk about fucked up.

  • Jaroslaw

    Jason – this is going to be hard to say without sounding like a smart ass – and I mean no disrespect really – but if all you know is what is in that Wikipedia article about the full faith and credit, you need to do a lot more reading. Even within that article Justice Scalia’s dissenting opinion exposed his personal religious and moral beliefs. eg. “longstanding tradition…etc.” If that were the case, slavery has a much more longstanding tradition in world history than marriage between only one man and woman. In fact, I have read repeatedly by “experts” marriage has always been thus in our own country. Not so – Indian tribes were allowed same sex marriages in the US. Or do they not count as people. Many decisions made by the courts over the last couple centuries cite the Bible as well. Yet in the treaty with (Trinidad?) around 1789 George Washington’s administration specifically said this is not a Christian Country. Jefferson said it neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg if a man believes in one, many Gods or no God. The point here is each person was to be free to practice their own beliefs so long as they didn’t infringe on someone else’s rights. Adam – I am fully aware that DOMA is a slap in the face to LG community by the Christian Right. But your logic is faulty – DOMA explicitly says marriage is between a man and woman. So by not accepting a Same Sex marriage from Mass., they would not be required to reject a straight marriage. DOMA is unconstitutional in the same way separate but equal schools, fountains etc. was unconstitutional and that (DOMA) is what needs to be done away with. Not advocating working within the framework of it.

  • Jason

    You miss the point, Jaro. This case has *nothing* to do with the full faith and credit clause, as I already argued above. Apparently you didn’t read it. In any case, don’t take my word for it. Just read the RI decision.

    As for the unconstitutionality of DOMA, it is not at all clear that the Roberts court would agree with you on this. If you think otherwise, I would invite you to review the very complicated history of this clause in case law–or indeed any standard text on constitutional law. It’s a lot more complicated than you seem to realize, as even the oversimplified wiki article shows.

    DOMA will not be overturned by the courts, not within our lifetimes anyway. It’s up to Congress to do that. In the meantime, it’s disappointing that RI hasn’t fully accepted MA licenses. I say this NOT because of full faith and credit but because RI’s OWN laws allow the state to recognize the licenses.

  • Jaroslaw

    Ummm, as you like say Jason, what is the third or fourth sentence in your Post 11? “Mass had to determine whether RI would accept same sex marriage?” Sounds like at least partly a full faith and credit clause case. However, I will admit I didn’t fully grasp the part about RI doesn’t specifically prohibit Same sex marriages. (the only state? Not sure about that one but if you say so) However, I HAVE read at least 10 300+ page books on the subject of same sex marriage by law professors at Georgetown etc. Also worked for a law term typing for 6 months! There was a lot I did not say in my post 12 explicitly. I was going for concepts and extrapolation since I figure most of us are not brand new to this stuff. EG as long as Scalia is going to interject his own RELIGIOUS beliefs and not follow existing case law, no of course DOMA won’t be overturned. However don’t say “not in our lifetime.” I never thought I would see same sex marriage anywhere ever, and we got it in Mass. If nothing else happens for the rest of my life, that is a great thing. Light at the end of the tunnel I hope..

  • Jason

    Yeah, I guess that wasn’t clear. What I meant is that since RI had nothing on the books banning same-sex marriage, the Mass. courts weren’t sure if their marriage licenses would be accepted in RI.

    (The reason Mass. even cared is because of this law in Mass. that says marriage licenses will only be given if they are acceptable in the state of residence. This has nothing to do with full faith and credit per se. Just a weird Mass. law — I think originally drafted so that interracial couples from out of state wouldn’t get married in Mass. and then sue their states of primary residence based on full faith and credit. Ironic, I know.)

    Anyway, in Feb. RI told Mass. that they *would* accept Mass. licenses–indeed RI was the *only* state that agreed. So Mass. courts allowed RI residents to cross the border and get hitched. No one else was allowed to get married in Mass.

    But NOW Rhode Island is saying that Mass. licenses *aren’t* acceptable, at least not in Family Court. So it’s like WTF? It was only in Feb. that they said it was….. So depending on how things turn out, maybe RI residents won’t be able to get married in Mass. anymore. It’s all really, really confusing. Especially for those of us who crossed the border and got hitched. Does RI call us married or not?

    I agree about the light at the end of the tunnel. My partner and I were so excited to get married last May. Never thought it could happen. But now it looks like the piece of paper will be worthless here in RI. We’ll see…. Two steps forward, one step back I guess :-)

  • Jaroslaw

    Jason – congratulations for you to be married! I came out of the closet too late (45) and now (48) it seems marriage much less a relationship for me is almost impossible. Not for lack of trying! My point is not to elicit pity, but just wonder sometimes why this means so much to me since it will probably never apply to me! But then I really do KNOW why. It is about self worth, acceptance of self and equality before the law. We are just as important as straight people and have the same obligations to OBEY the law, pay taxes etc. That is why this is important even if I never get to use it. I don’t know how old you are, but just think – when I was in Jr. High, and probably even HS the books all said being gay was a mental illness. Here we are 30 years later, and we can get married in at least one state. I’d say that is remarkable progress. Bottom line to our exchange – If Rhode Island accepted your Mass. License as full and valid (full faith and credit???) then all the other questions would be null and void. And the racial aspect of was to prevent slaves from running north, marrying a free person and escaping. That is why the HOME state (the slave state) had to accept the license. unfortunately, these laws never get removed.

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