News (USA)

Nevada retroactively recognizes same-sex marriages in lesbian divorce case

A gavel and a rainbow bookmark in a law book
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The Nevada Supreme Court has ruled that the state must honor marriages of same-sex couples performed before the state legalized marriage equality in 2014.

The case involves two women – Mary Elizabeth LaFrance and Gail Cline – who got a civil union in 2000 in Vermont and then married in Canada in 2003 who are now going through a divorce. By the time their state recognized same-sex couples’ marriages, they were already separated.

Related: Nevada voters turn same-sex marriage ban into legal protections for gay couples

According to Gay City News, the issue was how to divide up assets they acquired since they got married. Since Nevada is a community property state, everything that either of them earned since they were married should belong to both of them, according to state law.

Which raises the question of when they got married. Cline argued that they should be considered married since they got their civil union in 2000 and all property they acquired since then should be split between them, while LaFrance said that the state never recognized their marriage when they were together so each woman’s assets acquired prior to the start of marriage equality in 2014 should be considered each individual’s property.

Clark County District Court Judge Mathew Harter agreed with Cline that their marriage started in 2000. LaFrance appealed to the state supreme court, which decided that their marriage actually started in 2003, when they got married in Canada.

The court ruled that since Obergefell v. Hodges – the 2015 decision that legalized marriage equality in all 50 states – was based on the 14th Amendment, that means that states should have recognized marriage equality since the 14th Amendment was passed in 1868. The court, though, found that Obergefell only applied to marriage, not to civil unions.

“Nevada must credit the parties’ marriage as having taken place in 2003 and apply the same terms and conditions as accorded to opposite-sex spouses,” wrote Chief Justice Kristina Pickering. “These conditions include a presumption that any property acquired during the marriage is community property and an opportunity for spouses to rebut this presumption by showing by clear and certain proof that specific property is separate.”

The high court sent the case back to the county court to re-examine and divide their assets acquired since 2003.

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