By Sunnivie Brydum
Originally published on Advocate.com March 27 2014 4:49 PM ET
A lesbian couple in Puerto Rico have filed a federal lawsuit aimed at forcing the U.S. territory to recognize their legal marriage, performed in Massachusetts in 2004.
Ada Conde Vidal and Ivonne Álvarez Velez have been together for nearly 14 years and took early advantage of Massachusetts's historic move to be the first U.S. state to embrace marriage equality. But because a 1999 amendment to Puerto Rico's civil code restricted marriage recognition to only those unions involving opposite-sex couples, Conde and Álvarez are unable to have their relationship recognized in their home territory, reports the Washington Blade.
"We wish to enjoy the same social privileges and contractual rights that are conferred by the commonwealth on individuals in opposite-sex marriages and not to be treated as we are being treated as second class citizens differentiated, alienated and discriminated in comparison to other U.S. citizens,” reads the lawsuit filed by Álvarez and Conde, who is a bankruptcy lawyer licensed to practice in the commonwealth. "Puerto Rico law precluding recognition of lawful same-sex marriages denies us those rights in violation of the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution."
In the suit, filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for Puerto Rico in San Juan, contends that the commonwealth's policy violates the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and heavily cites last summer's landmark Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality, U.S. v. Windsor.
In detailing the harm they've suffered through the territory's lack of equal marriage rights, Conde recounts how, when her daughter had open-heart surgery, she was unable to designate her wife, Alvarez, to make even "simple decisions or determinations regarding her health. This also included simple decisions and/or determinations regarding her education."
The couple also notes that commonwealth law prohibits them from filing taxes as a married couple, and leaves each woman with no legal right to her wife's inheritance if one spouse were to suddenly die. Ultimately, the suit contends that by denying the married same-sex couple the same rights afforded to other legally married couples, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico causes the plaintiffs "severe humiliation, emotional distress, pain, suffering, psychological harm and stigma."
The suit seeks a preliminary and permanent injunction that would invalidate the commonwealth statute defining marriage as an opposite-sex-only union as well as those regulating the territory's refusal to recognize same-sex marriages lawfully performed in other jurisdictions.