Wyoming high court rules same-sex couple can divorce

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[JURIST] The Wyoming Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion] Monday that a same-sex couple married in Canada can get a divorce in Wyoming. The couple was legally married in Canada in 2008 and began divorce proceedings in Wyoming, where the couple resides. A district court determined it did not have subject-matter jurisdiction to adjudicate an action to dissolve a same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive] because Wyoming state statute defines marriage as “a civil contract between a male and a female person.” The Wyoming high court overruled the district court’s decision. Because state statute also indicates that “[a]ll marriage contracts which are valid by the laws of the country in which contracted are valid in this state,” the court reasoned that it had subject-matter jurisdiction over the proceeding. In reaching its conclusion, the court distinguished between same-sex marriage and same-sex divorce:

[R]ecognizing a valid foreign same-sex marriage for the limited purpose of entertaining a divorce proceeding does not lessen the law or policy in Wyoming against allowing the creation of same-sex marriages. A divorce proceeding does not involve recognition of a marriage as an ongoing relationship. Indeed, accepting that a valid marriage exists plays no role except as a condition precedent to granting a divorce. After the condition precedent is met, the laws regarding divorce apply. Laws regarding marriage play no role.

The court reversed and remanded the decision for further consistent proceedings at the district court level.

A number of states diverge on the issue of whether to recognize of out-of-state same-sex marriages. In April, Washington Governor Chris Gregoire [official website] signed a bill [materials; JURIST report] recognizing out-of-state same-sex marriages as legal domestic partnerships. In January, the Wyoming House of Representatives [official website] approved a bill [text, PDF] that would prevent Wyoming from recognizing [JURIST report] same-sex marriages and civil unions performed out-of-state. Earlier that month, New Mexico Attorney General Gary King [official website] issued an opinion stating that gay marriages from out of state would likely be legal [New Mexico Independent report] there. Last year, Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler [official website] declared that the state should recognize [JURIST report] same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. Same-sex marriage is currently legal in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire and Washington, DC [JURIST reports].

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