Court Powerless to Annul Same-Sex Marriage
Thomas B. Scheffey, law.com from the Web, March 31, 2005
Hartford, CT -- In a first-of-its-kind case, Hartford Superior Court Judge Linda Pearce Prestley has told two Connecticut women seeking to annul a civil marriage they filed with the clerk of Provincetown, Mass., that both states view their attempt to wed as legally void from the start.
In a 10-page decision issued March 18, Prestley determined that Connecticut courts have no jurisdiction to rule in such a case, because the state legislature has so far deemed same-sex marriage as against public policy.
Prestley noted that the plaintiff, named simply "Lane," and defendant Anita Ann Albanese claim they were unaware their Connecticut residency presented a legal impediment to Massachusetts's same-sex marriage.
She cited a Massachusetts law which states, "No marriage shall be contracted in this commonwealth by a party residing and intending to continue to reside in another jurisdiction if such marriage would be void if contracted in such other jurisdiction."
In one sense, that language might make the couple's marriage a clear candidate for annulment.
Under Connecticut law, an annulment "shall be granted if the marriage is void or voidable under the laws of this state or the state in which [it] was performed."
However, Prestley, on her own motion, questioned whether she had the legal power to take any action at all.
She decided she lacked jurisdiction, based on the reasoning of the 2002 Appellate Court decision of Rosengarten v. Downes.
In that case, two men attempted to annul their Vermont civil union. The trial court concluded it lacked jurisdiction, because the topic of same-sex civil unions was not a "family relations matter," listed in the statute that defines family court jurisdiction.
Stamford, Conn., Superior Court Judge Michael E. Shay also cited the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which says no state is compelled to legally recognize any other jurisdiction's same-sex marriage.
On appeal, Glen Rosengarten argued that principles of full faith and credit demand that Connecticut recognize Vermont's civil union statute, because it does not violate any strong public policy of Connecticut.
Appellate Court Judge Joseph P. Flynn, writing for a unanimous panel, disagreed.
He cited the legislature's decision not to create a Connecticut exception to the Defense of Marriage Act as evidence of Connecticut's public policy agreement that marriage requires a man and a woman.
In the present case, Prestley wrote that, because the attempted union between Lane and Albanese was "premised on a violation of the Massachusetts marriage statute, the 'civil marriage' was not valid from its inception, but null and void, and, therefore, Connecticut has nothing to dissolve or annul."
Finally, she invoked the public policy exception to the full faith and credit requirement, concluding Connecticut's policy on same-sex marriage would be violated if it recognized the Massachusetts view.
Prestley concluded that she was bound to dismiss the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, unless and until Connecticut's legislature decides to recognize civil unions or same-sex marriages.
Legislation creating a civil union system in Connecticut cleared a second key hurdle in the General Assembly March 21, with a 30-15 vote by the Appropriations Committee.
Lane's lawyer, Brenda A. Eckert of Shipman & Goodwin's Hartford, Conn., office, said her client is satisfied with the result and has no plans to appeal.