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Court: A Civil Union in Vermont Is the Same as a Marriage in Massachusetts

BY Lucas Grindley

July 26 2012 8:11 PM ET

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

A civil union in Vermont is no less than a marriage in Massachusetts, according to a ruling by Massachusetts' highest court.

The determination came today as part of divorce case with a strange twist.

Todd J. Elia-Warnken entered into a civil union in 2003 in Vermont and never dissolved it, even when later getting married to Richard Elia in Massachusetts in 2005. Elia only found out about the civil union when he filed for a divorce in 2010.

With its ruling, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decided the couple had never officially been married in the state. And so Elia-Warnken lost his argument that civil unions aren't equal to marriages.

"Because we conclude that a Vermont civil union is the equivalent of marriage, the issue is whether, pursuant to the polygamy statutes, the defendant's marriage to the plaintiff was void," wrote Justice Roderick Ireland for the court in a unanimous ruling. In the end, the court decided the marriage in Massachusetts was "void" under polygamy laws because "the plaintiff has a spouse in Vermont."