Civil Union Dissolution Appeal Heads to Superior Court
First Time Court Will Address Legal Status of Civil Unions in Pennsylvania
For the first time, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania has been asked to address the legal recognition of civil unions in Pennsylvania. An appeal filed in the Superior Court by Freyda Neyman of Philadelphia and her attorneys, Tiffany L. Palmer of Jerner & Palmer, P.C. and Thomas W. Ude, Jr. of Mazzoni Center Legal Services urges the Court to find that the Court of Common Pleas Family Division has jurisdiction to hear a civil union dissolution case and permit it to proceed on the same basis as a divorce action.
National LGBT and HIV civil rights organization Lambda Legal also filed an Amicus Curiae brief in support of Ms. Neyman’s case. Civil unions were created as a separate marital status for same-sex couples in a number of states across the county prior to same-sex marriage becoming available nationwide. Right after the Whitewood v. Wolf decision that brought marriage equality to Pennsylvania, Ms. Neyman filed a Complaint in June 2014, seeking an uncontested dissolution of the civil union on the same basis as a divorce action. On June 19, 2015, the Honorable Margaret Theresa Murphy signed an Order dismissing the complaint, stating that the Family Division does not have jurisdiction over civil unions. This uncontested appeal followed and briefs were filed April 5th. The case will now proceed to oral argument.
Ms. Neyman and her former partner were both Pennsylvania residents when they travelled to Vermont in July 2002 to enter into a civil union. At the time, same-sex marriage was not available anywhere in the United States. Civil Unions were created by the Vermont Legislature in 2000 as a separate marital status for same-sex couples, and Vermont was the only state where same-sex couples could enter into a civil union.
After Ms. Neyman’s separation from her partner, they remained legally tied to one another through the civil union and remain so to this day, now 14 years later. Before 2014’s Whitewood decision, a few couples were able to dissolve civil unions in the civil division, that ended after the Commonwealth Court concluded that civil unions were “the equivalent of a same-sex marriage” for purposes of recognition.
“This appeal is important to Ms. Neyman and to the many other Pennsylvanians whose civil unions far outlasted their actual relationships. They need a decree that brings those unions to a recognizable end,” said Ude.
“Civil unions created a second-class marital status that has placed people like Ms. Neyman in a legal limbo,” said Palmer. “Treating civil unions as marriages when people seek to dissolve them is a logical way to provide people some uniformity as to how courts will handle these cases,” added Palmer.