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Vermont civil union counts as a marriage in Massachusetts

August 29th, 2012 by Joseph William Singer

The Supreme Judicial Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts held that a man who entered into a civil union with another man in Vermont could not marry a different man in Massachusetts before dissolving the civil union. Elia-Warnken v. Elia, 463 Mass. 29, 2012 Mass. LEXIS 678 (Mass. 2012). The court dismissed divorce proceedings in Massachusetts on the ground that the marriage was void from the beginning since one of the men was still “married” (under a “civil union”) to another man in Vermont. The result denied the “spouse” in Massachusetts any remedies such as equitable distribution of property on the ground that otherwise one person would be married to two people at once with conflicting support obligations. The court cited an article of mine, Joseph William Singer, Same–Sex Marriage, Full Faith and Credit, and the Evasion of Obligation, 1 Stan. J. C.R. & C.L. 1, 29, 36, 50 (2005). Presumably, an action to dissolve the Vermont civil union could still be made but that would not generate  any property remedy against the Massachusetts spouse because that spousal relation never legally existed under the Massachusetts bigamy statute. The court did not address whether there might be any equitable or common law remedies based on a claim of constructive trust or unjust enrichmnet or fraud for failure to reveal the prior relationship.

Posted in Antidiscrimination law, Marital property, Sexual orientation | Comments Off on Vermont civil union counts as a marriage in Massachusetts

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