Today the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued an opinion in the case of Charron v. Amaral that held that marriage benefits for same-sex couples do not apply retroactively to the Goodridge v. Department of Public Health decision.
The case involves a couple, Michelle Charron and Cynthia Kalish, who began dating in 1990, moved in together in 1992 and subsequently bought a house together and had a child that both partners adopted. The couple also exchanged rings in a private ceremony in 1994 and obtained a marriage license in 2004 on the first day such licenses were available to same-sex couples. Charron sought treatment for a lump in her breast in 2002, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003 and died in 2006. The claim arose as a malpractice case for loss of consortium.
The plaintiffs argued that, but for the ban on gay marriage, they would have been married at the time the malpractice claim arose in 2002, and therefore the loss of consortium claim should be applied retroactive to the Goodridge decision. The SJC disagreed, and held that it was clear that Goodridge was intended to apply prospectively because it was such a radical change in the law that it required time for the legislature to act. Furthermore, the court found that:
to 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.
Although this case involves a malpractice/loss of consortium claim, the opinion has ramifications for divorce matters in Massachusetts. It is likely that, as a result of the Charron decision, same-sex couples who are divorcing will be barred from arguing that but for the ban on same-sex marriage, the couple would have had a long term marriage retroactive to Goodridge. The difference between a long term marriage and a short term marriage can have ramifications on the property division and alimony awards.