A lesbian couple who legally married in Canada can get a divorce in New York State. The ruling from the Supreme Court of New York (the lowest level court in the state) is a landmark decision in the fight for marriage equality.
Beth R. and Donna M. were married in Canada on Valentine’s Day 2004 surrounded by friends and family. The couple had one child together just before the marriage and another child in 2006. Donna was the biological parent, and both children were given Beth’s last name and call her “mom.” The two women shared a home, and both have always cared for and supported the children as parents.
In April of 2007, Beth filed for divorce. Donna responded by arguing that the marriage is void because New York State doesn’t allow same-sex couples to marry within its borders. Lambda Legal argued that it is well-established New York law to recognize out-of-state marriages that are validly performed in places like Canada where same-sex couples can marry. The court agreed.
Significantly, the court also agreed that Beth’s claim that she is legally a parent of both children cannot be dismissed. The best interests of the children require proceeding with her claim to ensure her ongoing relationship and support of the children.
New York courts have long held that out-of-state marriages, if valid where entered, will be respected in New York, even if the marriages could not have been performed here.
Courts have also recognized that the structure for ending a relationship is as important as the one for creating it. Same-sex couples and their children need this structure just as much as different-sex couples. The ruling in this case is a step toward marriage equality in the state of New York.
Lambda Legal’s co-counsel on this case are: Wendy J. Parmet and Elysa Greenblatt of Parmet Knopf & Greenblatt, LLC, and Jo Ann Citron of Citron Law