The Massachusetts Supreme Court recently ruled a marriage void between two divorcing men who married in 2005. In 2003, one of the men had entered into a civil union with a different man in Vermont that was never dissolved. In 2009, this same man filed for divorce from the man he married in 2005. During the divorce process the Divorcee discover that he, the Divorcer, was technically still married by means of a civil union in Vermont. The Divorcee then filed a counter-claim in 2010 on the grounds that his marriage was void.
Unanimously, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled the Vermont civil union to be “the equivalent of marriage”. In Massachusetts, a married person cannot get married to another person without divorcing the first spouse. In this case, the Vermont civil union was not dissolved at the time the Massachusetts marriage occurred and that resulted in the Massachusetts marriage being void. Spouses in civil unions shall be treated no differently than spouses in marriages. Therefore, the most recent marriage was void because it would constitute illegal polygamy.
Divorcer’s lawyers argued the Massachusetts marriage should not be void because civil unions in Vermont are not the same as a marriage in Massachusetts and that Massachusetts’ polygamy statutes only apply to a “husband” or “wife”.
Justice Ireland wrote, “If we do not recognize [Divorcer’s] civil union, he would have two legal spouses, each of whom could expect virtually the same obligations from him, such as spousal or child support, inheritance, and healthcare coverage.”
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