R.I. court says no to 'gay divorce'

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (BP)--The Rhode Island Supreme Court Dec. 7 handed conservatives another victory in the nationwide legal battle over "gay marriage," ruling that a same-sex couple who obtained a marriage license in Massachusetts could not get a "divorce" back home in Rhode Island.

The seemingly obscure case was being closely watched by pro-family organizations who feared that it could be used as a backdoor way to legalizing "gay marriage" itself in the state. The case involved two lesbian women, Margaret Chambers and Cassandra Ormiston, who were "married" in Massachusetts in 2004 only subsequently to file for a divorce in Rhode Island.

In a 3-2 decision, the court ruled that Rhode Island law clearly defines marriage as being between one man and one woman and that the state's family court -- which rules on divorces -- has no authority to grant a "divorce" to a homosexual couple.

"With respect to the case at hand, there is absolutely no reason to believe that, when the act creating the Family Court became law in 1961, the legislators understood the word marriage to refer to any state other than 'the state of being united to a person of the opposite sex,’" the court wrote.

The Supreme Court's role, the majority asserted, simply is to "interpret what was enacted" and not to change the law.

"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 majority ruled.

The ruling was somewhat surprising, given that Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch, a Democratic, and Gov. Donald L. Carcieri, a Republican, each filed briefs arguing that the court legally could grant the divorce. Lynch supports "gay marriage"; Carcieri does not.

When the justices heard oral arguments in October, conservative attorneys left the courtroom pessimistic.

The Alliance Defense Fund filed a friend-of-the-court brief encouraging the court not to allow the "divorce."

"Marriage has always been one man and one woman in Rhode Island. Everything else is counterfeit. The Supreme Court of Rhode Island ruled correctly," ADF attorney Austin Nimocks said in a statement. "Not only is [the] ruling a victory for marriage, it's also a tremendous step forward against judicial activism. Rhode Island's highest court acknowledged that it is the role of the legislature, and not the judiciary, to establish public policy."

For the "divorce" to be granted, one of the women now must move to Massachusetts, an attorney for one of the women said.


Compiled by Michael Foust, assistant editor of Baptist Press.

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