Sunday, July 22, 2007

More on the inadequacy of civil unions and domestic partnerships

In California, a court ordered that a man must continue to pay alimony, even after his ex-wife entered a domestic partnership with another woman.

The LA Times reports:

Ron Garber knew his former wife was living with another woman — and had taken her last name — when he agreed to pay her $1,250 a month in alimony.

What he didn't know was that the two women had registered with the state as domestic partners under a law that was supposed to mirror marriage law, Garber said.

State marriage laws say that alimony ends when the former spouse remarries, and Garber reasons he should be off the hook, given that domestic partnership is akin to marriage. But an Orange County judge has decided that registered partnership is cohabitation, not marriage, and that Garber must pay.

"This is not about gay or lesbian," Garber said. "This is about the law being fair."

The case, which Garber intends to appeal, highlights gaps between the legal status of domestic partners and of married couples, an issue the California Supreme Court is considering as it ponders whether to legalize same-sex marriage.
This is similar to a Virginia case where the Virginia Court of Appeals found that Jonathan Stroud did not have to continue supporting his ex-wife Debra Stroud after she entered a lesbian relationship. In their divorce settlement Mr. Stroud agreed to pay $4000 a month to Ms. Stroud until she remarried. Unlike California, the Virginia court found that the lesbian relationship did resemble the effects of marriage (in spite of the Virginia anti-gay marriage amendment), and canceled Mr. Stoud's support agreement.

From an Equality Virginia Press release:

In the case of Jonathan Stroud v. Debra Lyn Stroud, the Court chose to recognize a relationship between two women as a marriage-like relationship under the definition of cohabitation. However, they made this determination in the context of ending Mr. Stroud’s obligation to provide spousal support to his former wife.

“While we applaud the decision to legally recognize two women as a couple in a marriage-like relationship in the shadow of the so-called ‘marriage amendment’, it is quite ironic that the Court chose to recognize this relationship in order to remove a marriage benefit when the state has consistently denied recognizing the right to provide marriage benefits to gay and lesbian couples,” said Dyana Mason, Equality Virginia’s Executive Director. “It’s going to be very interesting how the Virginia Supreme Court responds to this case if it is appealed.”
These cases reveal how the lack of clear legal definitions for gay couples exposes couples straight and gay alike to the whims of judges, dare I say "activist".

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