In Stroud v. Stroud, Judges Benton, Haley, and Fitzpatrick overturned Circuit Judge M. Langhorne Keith’s ruling that Debra Stroud did not violate the terms of her divorce settlement with her ex-husband, Joseph Stroud, by living in a committed, long-term, sexual relationship with another woman. Though Stroud and her partner share a bed, have exchanged rings, go to church together, regard one another has wives, and jointly act as parents to Stroud’s three children, Judge Langhorne had said that such behavior does not qualify as “cohabitation with any person…in a situation analogous to marriage,” because, he argued, a same-sex couple can never be “analogous to marriage.” The circuit court unanimously overturned Langhorne’s decision, finding that the relationship is quite clearly analogous to marriage.
The basis of that decision is 2000’s Pellegrin v. Pellegrin‘s four-point system for determining what constitutes a marriage: Common residence, intimate or romantic involvement, the provision of financial support, and duration and continuity of the relationship and other indicia of permanency. The appeals court disagreed with the trial court’s reliance on a 1994 opinion by then-attorney general Jim Gilmore who claimed that domestic abuse laws don’t apply to same-sex couples, finding that it was both a) wrong and b) not binding on the court, anyhow.
My favorite bit is where the court devotes over a page to analyzing the meaning of the phrase “analogous to marriage,” pointing out that they’re basing their decision on “the factual relationship of wife and Robyn,” what with “analogous” not meaning “identical” but instead, according to Black’s Law Dictionary, “not identical.”
Contra to this blog entry’s headline, the court’s ruling applies only to the case at hand, and presumably its precedent will be limited to divorce law. But this is, I forecast, how same-sex unions will become legal in Virginia. Every time that the Virginia courts have to review a specific aspect of contract law between two parties that involves a same-sex relationship, the court will ultimately find that there’s nothing special about two people of the same sex that turns existing contract law on its head. Bit by bit, piece by piece, civil unions will become legal in Virginia because the alternative is to establish stupid case law. It’s like we have our very own TRAP laws, but for gay people. Isn’t that nice?
No matter how the court ruled on this, the “family” groups across the state were bound to freak out. I eagerly await news of exploding heads ’round the commonwealth.