by Bob Roehr
The wedding vow of “until death do us part” has taken on new meaning for a lesbian couple in Rhode Island that wants to divorce. The state Supreme Court has said that they can’t do that, they must stay together.
Margaret R. Chambers and Cassandra B. Ormiston crossed the state line to get married in Massachusetts in May 2004 when that state first allowed same-sex couples to marry. A Massachusetts court later ruled that because Rhode Island did not specifically prohibit same-sex marriage, the couple’s marriage was valid.
When their relationship hit the rocks, they sought a divorce in family court. The judge didn’t quite know what to do and asked the Rhode Island Supreme Court what to do. That ruling came down on Dec. 7.
A 3-2 majority of the Court held that under Rhode Island law, marriage means the union of a man and a woman, and therefore the family court did not have jurisdiction to grant a divorce. It suggested that one of the parties move to Massachusetts, where that court could deal with the matter.
In dissent, Justice Paul A. Suttell wrote that the Court did not legally have to recognize the marriage in Rhode Island in order to grant a divorce.
Ormiston greeted the decision with astonishment. “Three judges of the Supreme Court have discriminated against me. Shame on them,” she told the Providence Journal. “Those who do not support my right to be married have gotten exactly what they don’t want–I will be married forever. Ironic, huh?”
Writing on his blog, New York Law School professor Arthur Leonard, chided the majority for relying solely on the statute creating the family court, without considering application of the full faith and credit clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Legislation to allow gays to marry is again before the Rhode Island legislature, with supporters divided as to whether or not to seek a vote on it.