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Popular Topics in Social Sciences
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Topics In the News
 
California Judge Orders Retroactive Recognition of Same-Sex Marriage
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 09/19/13
Last updated on: 09/21/13
 
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In a ruling that was formalized on September 18, 2013, Sonoma County Judge Nancy Case Shaffer ordered the retroactive recognition of a lesbian couple's marriage that occurred a week before marriage equality was restored to California. Stacey Schuett and Lesly Taboada-Hall, who had been partners for 27 years and registered domestic partners since 2001, were married on June 19, one day before Taboada-Hall died of cancer and a week before the United States Supreme Court ruled that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional and allowed California's Proposition 8 to expire because proponents lacked standing to appeal a federal district court ruling that declared it unconstitutional. Judge Shaffer's ruling is an example of a court responding favorably to same-sex couples' pleas for justice in the face of terminal illnesses. But as the example of an Illinois couple attests, time often runs out before justice is done.

As Mary Callahan reports in the Press-Democrat, at stake in the Sonoma County case are benefits for which Schuett and the couple's two children are eligible only if the marriage between Schuett and Taboada-Hall is valid. Judge Shaffer's ruling means that Schuett should soon have full rights as the "surviving spouse" of Lesly Taboada-Hall and as the widowed parent of their two children. She should thus be entitled to pension and Social Security benefits for which she would otherwise not be eligible.

While this lawsuit is similar to recent cases from Ohio and New Mexico where couples in which one partner is terminally ill sued to have their marriages recognized, it is unique in bringing validation to a marriage retroactively on the grounds that it had been prohibited only because of a law that was unconstitutional.

As I blogged about here, on July 22, 2013, federal district judge Timothy S. Black issued a temporary restraining order requiring Ohio to recognize the marriage of John Arthur and Jim Obergefell, long-time partners who were married in Maryland on June 11 in an air ambulance on an airport tarmac because Arthur, who is suffering from ALS, is bed-ridden. The concern that led to the ruling was that Arthur may die without being recognized as the legal spouse of Obergefell.

Among the plaintiffs in the New Mexico same-sex marriage legal battles that resulted in the right to marry in Santa Fe County were Jen Roper and Angelique Neuman. Roper, who is suffering from a life-threatening form of brain cancer, and Neuman were wed in a brief ceremony at Christus St. Vincent Regional Cancer Center, where Roper is hospitalized. Roper's precarious health gave urgency to their quest for legal recognition of their relationship.

However, for some couples waiting to be married, time runs out. As David Mixner points out in a blog, many politicians are content to delay and to hope that the courts make the decision to do the right thing for them. As an example of the consequences of the delaying tactics played by the politicians in Illinois, he cites the example of Steven Rynes and his partner Robert Smith, who wanted to get married in their home state. While waiting for the politicians in Illinois to find their courage, Steven experienced a recurrence of cancer in November 2012. As the legislature delayed and delayed, his health deteriorated. He died on September 10, 2013.

As Mixner observes, "Each day politicians delay marriage equality they literally take away the dream, aspiration and rights of thousands of people around the country."

The video below tells the story of Robert Smith and Steven Rynes. It is a story of love and devotion, but also of the indifference and cruelty of politicians.

 
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