Pennsylvania, like most states in the US has a law, which prevents individuals connected by too close a level of consanguinity from marrying. This means that in most states, people who are too closely related will not be issued a marriage license. In most states this law bars parents from marrying children, first cousins from marrying cousins and nephews from marrying aunts. Though this might seem like a relic of past concerns of long lost siblings and jokes about backwoods shotgun weddings. However, this issue is all for a couple living in Allegheny County. Nino Espisito, a retired teacher, adopted his partner, Roland Bossee more than forty years together as a couple. The gentlemen made this decision before the landmark cases of Windsor, Whitewood, and Obergefell decisions permitted same-sex couples around the country to marry freely. By adopting Bossee, Espisito was able to convey upon him some but not all of the benefits associated with being married. However, this plan hit a snag when the couple, who is now permitted to legally marry in all fifty states, asked that the Allegheny County Orphan’s Court judge annul the adoption so that the couple could legally marry.
The trial court judge refused to grant their request as his authority to annul adoptions is limited to instances of fraud. In his opinion, the judge noted that because the adoption occurred partially in pursuit of decreasing the inheritance taxes assessed to Bossee as Espisito’s heir, even though the parties’ desire to marry was admirable, they could not do so because they were legally father and son. Finally, hip to the fact that an appeal was likely, noted that he looked forward to guidance from the Pennsylvania Superior Court on how to address this issue in the future.
Espisito and Bossee are not alone; the ACLU notes hundreds if not thousands of couples around the state and the country in similar situations, who are forced to face the authority of their state’s adoption laws and judges. However, results have not been consistent as other couples in Pennsylvania have been permitted to annul their adoptions and legally marry. Since this case has hit the national news, it is likely that we will see an appeal to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania within the next year. Pennsylvania ACLU Legal Director, Witold “Vic” Walczak indicted that the appellants harbor no ill will towards the judge who would not allow them to marry and stated that it was simply that he believed he lacked the legal mechanism to allow them to marry. An issue which he hopes to remedy with the appeal.
The couples affected by this case are not alone in their struggle, Pennsylvania’s Senator Bob Casey publicly asked the United States Attorney General and Department of Justice to weigh in on this complex and ever-evolving legal issue.
This case and others like it prove that the recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court and United States Supreme Court decisions are just the tip of the iceberg in addressing same-sex couples’ rights to marry. All laws applicable to heterosexual couples now also apply to homosexual couples; however, courts have only begun to address how allowing these couples to marry may impact their greater legal status individually and together. If you’re looking for legal assistance to help you address these ever evolving legal issues, contact our Pittsburgh office today!