A lesbian couple
that married in Massachusetts cannot get divorced in
their home state of Rhode Island, the latter state's supreme
court ruled Friday. The court, in a 3-2 decision, said
the state's family court lacks the authority to grant
the divorce of a same-sex couple because Rhode Island
lawmakers have not defined marriage as anything other than a
union between a man and a woman.
''The role of the
judicial branch is not to make policy, but simply to
determine the legislative intent,'' the court wrote.
An attorney for
one of the women involved complained they have been left
in a ''legal limbo,'' but opponents of same-sex marriage
said the court correctly avoided taking a step toward
recognizing such unions. Cassandra Ormiston and
Margaret Chambers wed in Massachusetts in 2004 and filed for
divorce last year in Rhode Island, where they both live.
Massachusetts, the only state where same-sex marriage
is legal, restricts the unions to residents of states
where the marriage would be recognized, and a
Massachusetts judge decided last year that Rhode Island is
one of those states.
specifically bans same-sex marriages in Rhode Island, but
the state has taken no action to recognize them. The
justices said Rhode Island laws contain numerous
references to marriage as between a woman and a man.
Nancy Palmisciano, Ormiston's lawyer, said couples married
in other states and other countries are routinely
granted divorces in Rhode Island and so the same
freedom should apply to this couple. Now Ormiston is
stuck in a marriage she doesn't want to be in, Palmisciano
said. The women's lawyers have said at least one would
have to move to Massachusetts to get a divorce, but
Palmisciano said Friday that was not a viable option
for her client.
disappointed for anyone who's involved in one of these
marriages who's a resident of the state of Rhode
Island,'' she said. ''I think these people are being
confined to a legal limbo.''
Louis Pulner, a
lawyer for Chambers, said he was surprised by the
''I feel that
it's unfortunate that two people who are legally married
can not get closure here in the state of Rhode Island,''
Lawyers for the
women had argued that the court should consider only
whether Rhode Island could recognize a valid marriage from
another state for the sole purpose of granting a
divorce petition. Opponents of same-sex marriage
praised Rhode Island's top court for rejecting even a
limited recognition of same-sex marriage.
''The meaning of
marriage in Rhode Island is the union of a man and a
woman,'' said Monte Stewart, president of the Marriage Law
Foundation, which filed a brief in the case. ''You
have to have a marriage before you can have a
Karen Loewy, a
staff attorney for Gay and Lesbian Advocates and
Defenders, said she viewed the court's decision as a narrow
ruling but feared that same-sex marriage opponents
would use it to argue against broader legal
recognition for same-sex couples in Rhode Island.
essentially asking these women to move to access justice,''
Loewy said. ''The door of the courthouse has been barred for
divorce petition drew a broad range of supporters, including
Attorney General Patrick Lynch, who earlier this year
released a nonbinding advisory opinion saying Rhode
Island should recognize same-sex marriages performed
In earlier court
filings, Gov. Don Carcieri, an opponent of same-sex
marriage, had also argued in favor of granting the divorce.
He said that under Rhode Island law the family
court didn't have to address whether the marriage was
valid at all, avoiding a larger debate about same-sex
unions. But he hailed Friday's court decision, saying in a
written statement, ''It has always been clear to me that
Rhode Island law was designed to permit marriage --
and therefore divorce -- only between a man and a
woman.'' (Eric Tucker, AP)
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