Connecticut court rules that same-sex marriage rights are retroactive
The Connecticut Supreme Court has ruled that same-sex married couples have retroactive rights to entitlements only available to heterosexual couples before same-sex marriage became legal.
The court ruled that a woman whose wife died amid a medical malpractice case may sue a doctor over the loss of her wife's companionship and income, even though the right to sue was limited to heterosexual married couples at the time of her death.
Legal experts called the decision the first of its kind in the country.
Associated Press reports that many same-sex partners believe they should get social security survivor payments, tax breaks, inheritances and other benefits of marriage denied them in the past because they could not marry.
The Connecticut case involved Margaret Mueller and Charlotte Stacey, who had a civil union in Connecticut in 2005 and got married in Massachusetts in 2008 after 23 years together under that state's gay marriage law, shortly before Connecticut approved gay marriage.
Mueller was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2001. In 2005, however, Mueller and Stacey learned the diagnosis was wrong and she actually had appendix cancer. Mueller died in 2009 at age 62. Stacey said her death could have been prevented if the original diagnosis had been correct.
Mueller sued for malpractice. After her death, a jury issued a $2.4 million verdict in her favour against one of her doctors, while another doctor settled for an undisclosed amount. The trial court and the state Appellate Court, however, ruled against Stacey in her effort to sue a doctor for loss of spousal "consortium," saying Stacey and Mueller weren't married as required under the law at the time of the malpractice.
John Thomas, a professor at the Quinnipiac University School of Law, said if the US Supreme Court ever declares gay marriage constitutional, the legal floodgates would open.
“I think what the court recognized is that constitutional rights don't spring into existence in one moment of time," Thomas said.
“I would expect to see a number of similar lawsuits in other states.”
IMAGE: Margaret Mueller and Charlotte Stacey in 2008.