On July 26, 2012, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled that a Vermont civil union “is the functional equivalent of a marriage” and must be treated as a marriage under Massachusetts law. In the case of Elia-Warnken v. Elia, Plaintiff, Todd Elia-Warnken, and Defendant, Richard Elia, were a same-sex couple who were married in Massachusetts in 2005.
In 2009 Todd filed for divorce. Richard learned that, at the time of the marriage, Todd was already in a Vermont civil union with another man. Since Todd was already in a Vermont civil union, Richard argued that no divorce was necessary because the marriage between the two men was void under Massachusetts law, which states that a marriage is not valid if “either party … has a former wife or husband living.” Todd responded by arguing that a civil union was not equal to a marriage in Vermont or in Massachusetts and, therefore, the marriage was a valid one.
Attorneys Susan Murray, Hobart Popick, and Alexia Venafra, on behalf of a group of Vermont Family Law and Estate Planning Attorneys, filed a friend of the court “amicus” brief, arguing that: (1) under Vermont law, civil unions are equal to marriage and Todd’s civil union with another man at the time he married Richard rendered their marriage invalid under Vermont law; and (2) if the court were to decide that Todd’s and Richard’s marriage was valid, Todd would be able to demand spousal protections (such as alimony, inheritances, and healthcare coverage) from both Richard and his civil union partner at the same time. The Massachusetts high court agreed with our arguments and held that Todd’s marriage to Richard was invalid given that he was in a Vermont civil union at the time he married Richard.
Read the decision and briefs on GLAD’s website: http://www.glad.org/work/cases/c/marriage