Massachusetts court denies same-sex couples retroactive benefits

[JURIST] The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court [official website] ruled Thursday in Charron v. Amaral [opinion text] that couples married after the court's decision legalizing same-sex marriage cannot make claims for benefits they would have received had they been allowed to marry sooner. The plaintiff in the case, Michelle Charron, brought a medical malpractice suit against a group of doctors for misdiagnosis of breast cancer in 2003. When Charron died in 2006, her spouse Cynthia Kalish attempted to advance the lawsuit as a tort action for loss of consortium. The couple were married less than a year after Charron's diagnosis following the court's 2004 decision in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health [text; JURIST report]. The court rejected Kalish's argument that she was entitled to relief because the couple would have married sooner had such marriage been legal, explaining that Goodridge was not to be applied retroactively. The court also stressed that allowing recovery in the case would open the door to increased litigation:

We also reject Kalish's argument that we should allow her to recover for the loss of consortium because she meets all other criteria for recovery and would have been married but for the legal prohibition. Goodridge granted same-sex couples the right to choose to be married after a specific date; the court never stated that people in same-sex, committed relationships (including the Goodridge plaintiffs, who had applied for, and were denied, marriage licenses) would be considered married before they obtained a marriage license. ... Instead, as discussed, one of the grounds on which the Goodridge court based its decision regarding the constitutionality of the marriage licensing statute was that so many benefits flowed only from being married. ... [t]o allow Kalish to recover for a loss of consortium if she can prove she would have been married but for the ban on same-sex marriage could open numbers of cases in all areas of law to the same argument.
AP has more. The Boston Herald has local coverage.

In 2003, Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage [Boston Globe timeline] with the state high court's decision in Goodridge. More than 8,500 same-sex couples have been married in Massachusetts since May 2004. In June 2007, Massachusetts lawmakers voted against [JURIST report] allowing a statewide vote on a proposed constitutional amendment [text] defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman.


 

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