Portrait of a Gay Couple

The Supreme Court’s recent decision legalizing gay marriage requires interpretation as highlighted in the case of a couple’s relationship statuses before the ruling took effect.

Mauricio Leyton and his partner David Hunter had a commitment ceremony in 2002 to signify their lifetime commitment when they were not allowed to be legally married. They separated in 2010.

In 2013, Leyton passed away, but he had never changed his will which named Hunter as the executor of the estate and heir to half of it. Leyton’s mother sued to have the commitment ceremony declared a legal marriage in light of the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage.

This would have been important because under New York law, where Leyton lived, if a person there passes away after a will has been executed, then any inheritance for an ex-spouse is stricken from the will. The mother reasoned that the couple’s separation was the equivalent of a divorce.

In this case, that would have made her the sole heir to Leyton’s estate.

The ABA Journal reported on this case in “SCOTUS same-sex marriage ruling did not make commitment ceremonies marriages, state court says.”

In ruling against Leyton’s mother the court decided that the commitment ceremony was not a legal marriage. The court further ruled that even if the ceremony had been a marriage, Leyton and Hunter would not have been divorced as they separated but never made any attempt to have a judge declare that separation a divorce.

Hunter, who will be able to keep his half of Leyton’s estate, claims that it is what Leyton would have wanted as the two separated amicably.

Reference: ABA Journal (Jan. 2, 2016) “SCOTUS same-sex marriage ruling did not make commitment ceremonies marriages, state court says.”

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Mr. Amoruso concentrates his practice on Elder Law, Comprehensive Estate Planning, Asset Preservation, Estate Administration and Guardianship.