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Case Name Elia-Warnken v. Elia PB-MA-0007
Docket / Court WO09D0940DR ( State Court )
State/Territory Massachusetts
Case Type(s) Public Benefits / Government Services
Special Collection Same-Sex Marriage
Case Summary
This was a case in which two men married under Massachusetts law in 2005, but the plaintiff (in the divorce) had, at the time of the marriage, a prior undissolved Vermont same-sex civil union. The plaintiff sought divorce in 2009, but the defendant moved to dismiss the divorce claim (and his own ... read more >
This was a case in which two men married under Massachusetts law in 2005, but the plaintiff (in the divorce) had, at the time of the marriage, a prior undissolved Vermont same-sex civil union. The plaintiff sought divorce in 2009, but the defendant moved to dismiss the divorce claim (and his own counter-claim for divorce), on the ground that the Massachusetts marriage was void, because the plaintiff's civil union was covered by the Massachusetts anti-polygamy law.

On July 26, 2012, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, in an opinion by Chief Justice Ireland, recognized the Vermont civil union as the equivalent of marriage in Massachusetts, under principles of comity. Accordingly the Massachusetts marriage was void ab initio. (The Court noted that Vermont law likewise prohibits marriage to a third party by someone still part of a civil union. Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 15, secs. 4 & 511.)

(The procedural progress of the case was a little complex: The matter was initially before the Worcester Probate and Family Court, but after a hearing on the defendants' motion, on April 6, 2010, that court (Judge King) reported the question to the Appeals court for determination, rather than deciding it in the first instance. The Supreme Judicial Court then transferred the case to itself, on its own motion, apparently in July 2011. It announced, however, that the Probate and Family Court judge should have made an interlocutory ruling on the defendant's motion to dismiss, rather than simply reporting the matter to the Appeals court. It sent the case back to the Probate Court, and explained that whichever way that court ruled, the matter would resume in the Supreme Judicial Court on appeal. Just a few days later, on August 1, 2011, the Probate Court entered a judgment of dismissal, agreeing with the defendant that the Vermont civil union barred the Massachusetts marriage. The Supreme Judicial Court heard argument in April 2012, and decided the case, as described above, on July 26, 2012.)

- 08/13/2012


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Discrimination-basis
Sexual orientatation
General
Marriage
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Causes of Action State law
Defendant(s) [Divorcing couple]
Plaintiff Description A Massachusetts man seeking divorce from his husband; the defendant sought dismissal of the divorce and a recognition that the marriage was void, because the plaintiff had a prior Vermont civil union.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations None on record
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Prevailing Party Defendant
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief None on record
Source of Relief Litigation
Form of Settlement None on record
Order Duration not on record
Case Closing Year 2012
Case Ongoing No
Additional Resources
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Case Studies Limited Partnership
http://www.limitedpartnershipmovie.com/
By: Thomas G. Miller
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

  United States Government says L.A. Gay Couple‚Äôs 1975 Marriage is Valid
The Pride L.A.
Written: Jun. 07, 2016
By: Troy Masters
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

Docket(s)
SJC-11023 (State Supreme Court) 07/26/2012
PB-MA-0007-9000.pdf | Detail
State Court Website
General Documents
[Opinion of Mass. Supreme Judicial Court] 07/26/2012 (463 Mass. 29)
PB-MA-0007-0001.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Document Source: State Court Website
Judges Ireland, Roderick L. (State Supreme Court)
PB-MA-0007-0001
Monitors/Masters None on record
Plaintiff's Lawyers Plante, Nicholas J. (Massachusetts)
PB-MA-0007-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Loewy, Karen L. (Massachusetts)
PB-MA-0007-9000
Other Lawyers Popick, Herbert F. (Vermont)
PB-MA-0007-9000

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