Can a Civil Union Be Dissolved in Massachusetts?
If a gay or lesbian couple joins together in marriage in either Massachusetts, California or Connecticut, they can definitely get divorced in those respective states. In states that outlaw same-sex marriage, due to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), those states do not have to recognize a same-sex marriage from another state and therefore do not have to grant their request for a divorce. That begs the question, if a gay or lesbian couple joins together in a civil union (e.g.: Vermont), can they get a “divorce” in a state that allows same-sex marriage (e.g.: Massachusetts)?
The answer to that question, at least in Massachusetts, is yes. In 2004, Judge Cronin of the Essex Probate and Family Court ruled that a couple who has a civil union in Vermont may get “divorced” in Massachusetts. He reasoned that a Vermont civil union confers all the rights of marriage (sans the actual title of “marriage”) and therefore, through a dissolution process similar to a divorce, Massachusetts may sever those “marriage” rights.
It is still up in the air, due to Proposition 8 that was recently voted in in California, whether same-sex marriage or divorces will stay valid in that state. At least in Massachusetts, marriage and divorce is a right open to all couples, straight or gay.
*thanks to Amy Martel for the case-law and clarification
* NOTE: This information is only for Massachusetts residents! If you live in other states, this will not apply.