Appeals court asked to reverse "divorce" decision
October 17 2003 12:00 AM ET
An appeals court in Washington State has been asked to reverse a Yakima judge's ruling that same-sex couples who separate have the same rights as married couples when it comes to dividing assets. The 10-year relationship between Yakima physician Julia Robertson and Seattle nurse Linda Gormley was "sufficiently marriage-like to provide equitable relief," Yakima County superior court judge Heather Van Nuys ruled last November. Van Nuys said the women must divide their assets equally--a decision that amounted to a divorce in a state that does not recognize same-sex marriage. The appeals court ruling is expected in six weeks to two months. If it upholds the lower court ruling, the case would set precedent in courts statewide.
On Wednesday, Robertson's lawyer, Bryan Myre, asked the three-judge Washington State court of appeals panel to reverse Van Nuys's ruling, particularly the financial settlement. Robertson, a physician, made significantly more money that her partner and "contributed the majority of income and assets to this relationship," Myre argued. "Miss Gormley requested not what she put into the relationship, but one half of everything." Gormley and Robertson never entered into an agreement that their assets would
be divided equally, he said.
Howard Schwartz, who represents Gormley, argued that Van Nuys had ruled correctly. "The trial court did what was just and equitable," he said. "The trial court did what was fair."
Patricia Novotny, a lawyer with the Northwest Women's Law Center in Seattle, told the judges that there is precedent for treating a same-sex relationship like a marriage.
In May the state supreme court in the case of Vasquez v. Hawthorne ruled that a Seattle man's 30-year same-sex relationship was enough like a marriage to grant him a share of his deceased partner's estate. Myre argued that case was not applicable. Novotny said the precedent could be applied in Robertson and Gormley's case. "This is not a marriage," she said. "It is an entirely different critter,
derivative of marriage. Theirs was not a marriage, but in many ways marriage-like."
Van Nuys had called the couple's relationship an "intimate domestic partnership," allowing both women the same property rights given to a husband and wife in a divorce.
Myre said the two women started a relationship in 1986 and moved in together in 1988 in Florida after both served in the U.S. Navy. They moved to California and bought a home before moving to Yakima in 1993 and purchasing a home in Robertson's name. Gormley was responsible for her share of debts owed on joint credit accounts but had no claim to the house. Gormley received cash for her share of the house, and the two split common debts. Other property, including furniture and cars, was divided between them.