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Setbacks for Same-Sex Marriage, Gains for Same-Sex Divorce


The controversy over same-sex marriage and divorce continued last week when Maryland's highest court ruled against granting marriage rights to same-sex couples, reports the Baltimore Sun. After a three-year trial involving 19 plaintiffs (nine couples and a man whose partner died), the court reportedly insisted that "in spite of the unequal treatment suffered" by the plaintiffs, state law asserts that "the fundamental right to marry is not absolute."

As evidence of this claim, the court cited Maryland law that prohibits marriage for minors who are less than 15 years old, individuals who are too closely related, those who are not mentally competent, and those who have multiple partners. Same sex couples, apparently, are just another type of "maritally restricted" citizen.

The ruling apparently shocked many of the same-sex couples involved, as they felt that their rights were heartily disregarded. Interestingly, as Maryland court decisions deny the legitimacy of same-sex marriage, a Rhode Island Court has passed down a decision of a different tenor.

Earlier this year, two women who lived in Rhode Island and were married in Massachusetts sought a divorce in Rhode Island family court. Massachusetts is currently the only state that recognizes same-sex marriages, which presented unique problems: could a divorce be granted in a state where the marriage was not legal?

The judge assigned to the case reportedly treaded very carefully through the specifics of the case, aware of the potential implications of a decision allowing same-sex divorces.

Sources indicate that confusion came from a 1913 Massachusetts law prohibiting marriage between those who reside in states where their marriages are considered invalid.

Rhode Island's laws concerning the legal status of married same-sex couples are ambiguous-while the state does not permit gay marriages, it also does not have specific legislation that mentions the status of same-sex couples married in other states. Apparently, court officials eventually determined that the Massachusetts law did not therefore apply.

According to the Providence Journal, the court ultimately granted the women in question their divorce, citing Rhode Island laws that make divorce legal even when the marriage itself is considered void or voidable within the state.

While the Maryland decision can be considered a significant loss for the cause of same-sex marriage, the Rhode Island case suggests a potential gain. Though the specifics of the Rhode Island divorce were carefully outlined to avoid interpretations of legalized gay marriage in that state, the fact that the divorce was granted at all shows a certain level of acceptance.

After all, in the 10th century, divorce was prohibited altogether by the Christian church.

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