Rhode Island wrestles with lesbian divorce

/ Source: The Associated Press

A lesbian couple married in Massachusetts has filed for divorce in Rhode Island, setting up a legal conundrum for judges in a state where the laws are silent on the legality of same-sex marriage.

Margaret Chambers and Cassandra Ormiston of Providence were married after the Massachusetts Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in 2003, making it the only U.S. state allowing same-sex couples to wed.

Chambers' attorney, Louis Pulner, said Wednesday the couple had irreconcilable differences, and filed for divorce Oct. 23 in Rhode Island family court.

The filing is believed to be the first for a same-sex divorce in Rhode Island, Family Court Chief Judge Jeremiah Jeremiah Jr. said. He has not yet decided whether the court has jurisdiction. A preliminary hearing was scheduled for Dec. 5.

It was unclear until recently whether couples from out of state could marry in Massachusetts. In September, a Massachusetts judge decided that nothing in Rhode Island law specifically bans gay marriage and said couples from Rhode Island could legally marry there.

However, Rhode Island has not taken any action to recognize same-sex unions made in Massachusetts. State Attorney General Patrick Lynch has said it is a matter for the courts and legislature to decide.

Most other U.S. states have laws specifically defining marriage as between a man and a woman and marriages in Massachusetts are not recognized in those states.

"Now the ultimate question is whether the state (of Rhode Island) will recognize or determine whether it has jurisdiction to handle an out-of-state divorce when we don't have any case law that accepts or rejects same-sex marriage," Pulner said.

An attorney for Ormiston did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

The first same-sex weddings in Massachusetts took place in May 2004. Two states — Vermont and Connecticut — have legalized civil unions that give same-sex couples benefits and responsibilities similar to marriage.