Will A Lesbian Be Forced To Testify Against Her Wife In A Murder Trial?
A Kentucky murder trial is raising big questions regarding the legal rights of same-sex spouses, namely whether one spouse can be forced to testify against another in a state where same-sex marriage isn't recognized.
A Kentucky woman, Bobbie Joe Clary, has been charged with the murder of 64-year-old George Murphy in 2011. She claims his death was self-defense.
Prosecutors claim that Bobbie Joe confessed the killing to her wife, Geneva Case. They also claim Case witnessed her wife cleaning blood from Murphy's vehicle and abandoning it.
Clary and Case entered a civil union in Vermont in 2004; that civil union has retroactively become a legal marriage due to Vermont's legalization of same-sex marriage.
As such, Case should theoretically have the legal right not to testify against her spouse, but prosecutors claim that since their marriage isn't recognized by the state of Kentucky, Case has a legal obligation to testify against her wife.
Prosecutors say Geneva Case heard her spouse admit to killing a man two years ago and saw her clean blood out of the man’s van and abandon it in Southern Indiana. Now, they argue, Case must testify about those facts, even though Kentucky law exempts spouses from being compelled to testify against each other.
"That ceremony is not a ‘marriage’ that is valid and recognized under Kentucky law,” prosecutors said in a court motion, noting that marriage between members of the same sex is prohibited in Kentucky. “Geneva Case and the defendant cannot prove the existence of a marriage under Kentucky law.”
But attorneys for Clary say they are legally married and denying them the same marital rights others have would be a violation of the Constitution.
The case has become the first legal test in the state over forcing same-sex partners to testify against each other — raising the broader issue of whether the state recognizes marriages or civil unions that are legal elsewhere. The case could have ramifications for issues such as divorces and division of property after death.
“It is going to have a huge impact,” Angela Elleman, an attorney for Clary, said in an interview, noting that couples are leaving the state to marry and coming back with legal issues that are going to have to be resolved.
“It’s going to come up again and again and again,” she said.
Any legal experts want to chime in? Does this couple have the legal protection of spousal privilege or does Kentucky's failure to recognize their marriage legally deny them their rights?