- The Washington Times - Monday, December 15, 2003

A traditional-values group yesterday filed legal papers objecting to an Iowa judge’s decision to dissolve a lesbian couple’s Vermont civil union.

District Judge Jeffrey Neary “granted this dissolution to a marriage that is not recognized in Iowa,” said Charles Hurley, president of the Iowa Family Policy Center in Pleasant Hill, Iowa.

“Our appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court today is to overturn the judge’s illegitimate order,” he said.

The group’s legal action is in response to Judge Neary’s Nov. 14 “dissolution of marriage” granted to Kimberly Brown, 31, and Jennifer Perez, 26, of Sioux City, Iowa.

The lesbian couple had obtained a Vermont civil union in March 2002, which gave them marriagelike rights and responsibilities in that state. One partner has to live at least a year in Vermont to legally to end the union.

Judge Neary said he signed the decree without realizing that both parties were women.

He told the Des Moines Register that when he discovered what had happened, he confronted Dennis Ringgenberg, the attorney for one of the women.

“I said, ‘This is probably going to be a controversial matter at some point in time,’” Judge Neary said, “and he smiled and said, ‘You’re right.’”

Judge Neary said he decided to let the decree stand because of the constitutional clause that asks states to honor each others’ legal decisions.

“I’m not making a decision about whether I either agree or disagree with same-sex unions,” Judge Neary told the Register. “I clearly look at this as a dispute between parties that in some way I’m going to have to solve.”

Iowa doesn’t recognize civil unions and so judges can’t grant dissolutions of civil unions, said Mr. Hurley, who as a state lawmaker drafted an early version of the state’s Defense of Marriage Act, which says that only marriages between one man and one woman are recognized in Iowa.

A call to Mr. Ringgenberg about the legal objection to his client’s judgment was not immediately returned yesterday.

Judges in Texas and Connecticut have rejected requests for “divorces” of Vermont civil unions, but a judge in West Virginia has granted one:

• In Connecticut, a trial judge ruled in 2001 that Connecticut had no jurisdiction over civil unions and could not grant a “divorce” to Glen Rosengarten to end his civil union with Peter Downes. The state appellate court upheld the ruling in 2002. Mr. Rosengarten’s appeal to the state Supreme Court ended with his death in 2002.

• In Texas this spring, District Judge Tom Mulvaney granted — and then dismissed — a judgment to end a civil union for Russell Smith and John Anthony. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott intervened in the case, arguing that civil unions were not recognized in Texas. Mr. Smith subsequently withdrew his petition.

• In West Virginia, in December 2002, Marion County Family Court Judge David P. Born ended the civil union of Sherry Gump and Misty Gorman. The decision, which the judge said was a necessary “judicial remedy,” was filed Jan. 3, 2003. It was not appealed.


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