Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Joanna Grossman on Rhode Island Supreme Court's Denial of Same-Sex Divorce

For an excellent article critiquing the majority decision of the Rhode Island Supreme Court, in Chambers v. Ormiston, which ruled that a lesbian couple, married in Massachusetts, cannot get a divorce in Rhode Island's Family Court, for lack of jurisdiction, see Hofstra Law Professor Joanna Grossman's findlaw article of today, "The Rhode Island Supreme Court Denies a Divorce to a Same-Sex Couple That Was Married in Massachusetts: Why This Case Was Wrongly Decided" by Joanna Grossman.

As Grossman explains, state courts are obliged, for the purpose of considering claims for divorce, to recognize couples joined in marriage under other state's laws, even though state laws on marriage and legal restrictions and requirements for marriage differ greatly among the states. I basically agree with Grossman's points, and also question the Rhode Island Supreme Court majority's reasoning on the same basis. I think the dissenters had the better view, but read the majority and dissenting opinions and decide for yourself.

I disagree with this Rhode Island ruling, even though I also recognize problems with the reasoning of Goodridge et al. v. Department of Public Health et al., the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision which established gay or same-sex marriage in Massachusetts. (Despite my issues with the reasoning in Goodridge, I do, however, celebrate the resulting expansion of marriage to include gay and lesbian marriage, which I think has been a good thing, for gay and straight alike.)

But whatever you may think about the Massachusetts case establishing same-sex marriage, you must realize that it is this very Massachusetts decision that has created the current conflict of laws issue, by expanding greatly the definition of "marriage" in Massachusetts in a way that has had, and will continue to have, an effect far beyond the borders of the Bay State. It remains to be seen how exactly, and to what extent, gay marriage - and divorce - will become a part of the life of the rest of the nation. This Rhode Island case hardly provides an answer to that question, or any end to such jurisdictional questions. This story is far from over.

For more on this Rhode Island case, including links to my previous posts, news articles from the Providence Journal, and to legal briefs filed in the case, see my most recent post, Rhode Island Supreme Court Decides Lesbian Couple, Married in Massachusetts, May Not Divorce in Rhode Island.

For information about Massachusetts divorce and family law, see Law Offices of Steven Ballard.

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