A lesbian couple
married in Massachusetts should have the same right as
heterosexual couples to divorce in Rhode Island, lawyers for
the women told the state's highest court on Tuesday.
Ormiston and Margaret Chambers wed in 2004, soon after
Massachusetts became the only U.S. state to legalize
same-sex marriages. They filed for divorce last year
in their home state of Rhode Island, where the law is
silent on whether same-sex marriages are legal.
It is believed to
be the state's first same-sex divorce case.
If the women
cannot divorce in Rhode Island, their lawyers said the only
legal option would be to move to Massachusetts and live
there long enough to obtain a divorce.
''It is an
absolutely unfair burden,'' Ormiston said outside court.
''It is a burden no one else is asked to bear, and it
is something I will not do.''
before the Rhode Island supreme court, lawyers said the only
question to consider was whether the state could recognize a
valid same-sex marriage from another state for the
sole purpose of granting a divorce petition. They
stressed the case has no bearing on whether gay
couples can get married in Rhode Island.
''You have a
valid marriage in the state of Massachusetts,'' Louis
Pulner, an attorney for Chambers, told the justices. ''No
one is asking the court to address the question of
whether such marriages would be valid in Rhode
In September 2006
a Massachusetts judge decided same-sex couples from
Rhode Island could marry in Massachusetts because nothing in
Rhode Island law specifically banned same-sex
marriage. But the courts and the legislature in Rhode
Island have not taken any action to recognize same-sex
marriages performed in Massachusetts.
attorney general Patrick Lynch earlier this year issued a
nonbinding advisory opinion saying the state would recognize
same-sex marriages performed in Massachusetts.
At one point
Pulner noted Rhode Island lawmakers have not passed laws
that either expressly permit or prohibit same-sex marriage.
''We're not the legislature,'' supreme court chief
justice Frank Williams said.
Palmisciano, a lawyer for Ormiston, said Rhode Island
routinely treats as valid heterosexual marriages
performed in other states and even in other countries.
''Here we have two American women who have not been
able to push their divorce forward because they happen to be
members of the same sex,'' Palmisciano said.
chief family court judge asked the state supreme court for
guidance on whether he has the authority to handle a
same-sex divorce. The court agreed to weigh in and
invited Rhode Island's legislative leaders, governor,
and state attorney general to submit legal briefs
detailing their positions.
Democrat, and Gov. Don Carcieri, a Republican, have argued
the court can grant a divorce to same-sex couples
without changing existing marriage laws.
The justices did
not indicate when they would rule. (AP)