your connection to The Boston Globe

Gay couple's divorce case back in lower R.I. court

PROVIDENCE -- The Rhode Island Supreme Court said yesterday that it needs more information about a gay couple's marriage before it can decide whether a state court has jurisdiction over what is believed to be the state's first gay divorce case.

The case could present a legal conundrum in Rhode Island, where the law is silent on the validity of gay marriage, but where couples can drive across the border and wed .

Margaret Chambers and Cassandra Ormiston of Providence were married in Fall River, Mass., after the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court legalized gay marriage in 2003. The couple filed for divorce in Rhode Island Family Court last year, citing irreconcilable differences.

Family Court Chief Judge Jeremiah S. Jeremiah Jr. asked the high court to weigh in on whether Rhode Island judges can rule on same-sex divorce cases, but the court yesterday returned the case to him, saying he must answer a series of questions first.

Among other questions, the court said it wanted to know whether the couple have a valid marriage license, where they lived when it was issued, and whether Chambers, the plaintiff, has resided in Rhode Island long enough to file for divorce there.

Louis Pulner, a lawyer for Chambers, said his client filed for divorce in Rhode Island because the couple never lived in Massachusetts and cannot bring a divorce case there. He said the Supreme Court's questions indicate it wants to make sure the divorce case is legitimate and not being advanced as a test case for legalizing gay marriage.

Ormiston's lawyer, Nancy Palmisciano, said she was hesitant to read anything into the court's questions, but said she was glad it was handling the case quickly.

Both lawyers have said that even if the Supreme Court allows the divorce case to proceed, that decision would not necessarily legalize gay marriage in Rhode Island. The state's courts generally recognize marriages granted by other states, even if the union would have been illegal in Rhode Island, the lawyers said.

Until recently, it was unclear whether out-of-state couples could marry in Massachusetts, which forbids such couples from marrying there if the marriage isn't legal in the couple's home state.

Last year, a Massachusetts judge ruled that nothing in Rhode Island law bans gay marriage, meaning that Rhode Island couples can legally marry in Massachusetts. But it's unclear whether those marriages are valid back in Rhode Island.