Rhode Island Court Preserves Marriage
Special Report - December 13, 2007
Marriage will remain a heterosexual institution in Rhode Island, at least for the time being, after the Ocean State’s highest court, on December 7, rejected an attempt by a lesbian couple to have their “marriage,” which was solemnized in Massachusetts, legally ended in Rhode Island. The complaint, filed by Margaret Chambers and Cassandra Ormiston, was seen by many traditional marriage advocates as a backdoor attempt to legalize same-sex “marriage” in the nation’s smallest state. The case originated in 2004 when Chambers and Ormiston obtained a marriage license in Massachusetts shortly after the state’s Supreme Judicial Court legalized homosexual "marriage" there. In October 2006, the plaintiffs filed for divorce in Rhode Island, where the issue of same-sex “marriage” is not specifically addressed in state law. A Family Court judge passed the case along to the State Supreme Court, asking whether a same-sex couple could legally divorce in Rhode Island.
In its 3 to 2 decision, the Rhode Island Supreme Court ruled that when the Rhode Island legislature enacted the state’s statute giving the Family Court the ability to grant divorces, lawmakers understood the definition of marriage to be the union of one man and one woman. “The role of the judicial branch is not to make policy, but simply to determine the legislative intent as expressed in the statutes enacted by the General Assembly,” the court wrote. Because the intent of the statute was clear, the Family Court did not have jurisdiction to grant a divorce to the lesbian couple, the court ruled. The two dissenting justices issued a separate opinion arguing that the statute in question did not preclude the Family Court from granting the divorce. “The subject-matter jurisdiction of the Family Court does not turn on the gender of the parties; rather it turns on their status as a married couple,” the dissenting justices wrote.
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