Monday, January 03, 2005

Road to Rhode Island

Apparently seeking clarity rather than conflict, a married lesbian couple requested that a Rhode Island school system extend health-care benefits to the spouse of a retired school teacher. The distance between Swansea, Massachusetts, where the couple lives, and Tiverton, Rhode Island, where one of them taught for 27 years is only 12 miles. However, crossing the state line takes them into the twilight zone of undefined laws and regulations.

Rhode Island doesn't forbid recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other states. It says nothing. Two Committee members favor extending benefits. The other is undecided.

The Tiverton School Committee turned to a state Superior Court for an opinion on whether it can extend the benefits. It asked Judge Stephen Fortunato whether the Committee has the right to extend the benefits as it would to other married couples. The Committee's filing to the judge cited Rhode Island's lack of clear policy for same-sex marriages.

Lynette Labinger is the ACLU attorney for Cheryl McCollough, the retired teacher. The Boston Globe quotes her as saying, "The only issue as far as we're concerned is the agreement between the school department and the union, which recognizes a marriage as long as it's valid in the state it's entered in." McCullough and Joyce Boivin married in June.

Meanwhile, in December, the Committee added Boivin to McCoullough's family health plan, but the women had to pay the extra $500 a month. They will get a refund if the judge rules in their favor.

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