from Political News
By William C. Duncan, NARTH Legal Committee Chairman
COTE-WHITACRE V. DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALTH No. 04-2656
Massachusetts Superior Court, Suffolk County September 29, 2006
Non-resident same-sex couples challenged Massachusetts law allowing only state residents to contract same-sex marriages in Massachusetts. Plaintiffs' claim was initially rejected in trial court and then heard by the Supreme Judicial Court. There, the court affirmed the denial of the claims of plaintiffs from Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont because those states' laws clearly defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman. The court, however, remanded for the trial court to determine whether the plaintiffs from New York and Rhode Island were prohibited by the laws of their state of residence.
On remand, the court first relied on the recent decision of the New York Court of Appeals in Hernandez v. Robles to determine that same-sex marriages are prohibited in New York.
For the Rhode Island plaintiffs, the court had to determine the appropriate standard since there was no majority opinion in the SJC decision. The court, thus, used the narrowest construction of the non-recognition statute (Chief Justice Marshall's opinion) to determine that Rhode Island same-sex couples can seek marriage licenses only if same-sex marriages are not "explicitly deemed void or otherwise expressly forbidden by a Rhode Island constitutional amendment, by a Rhode Island statute, or by a Rhode Island Supreme Court decision." No such amendment, statute, or decision exists so Rhode Island couples, the court held, can contract same-sex unions in Rhode Island.