LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Is it a test case for same-sex spousal privilege or a way to keep crucial testimony out of a murder trial? On September 23, Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Susan Schultz Gibson made a ruling that's being closely watched by equal-rights groups around the country.
A Louisville woman claimed spousal privilege to block her testimony against her same-sex partner, charged with a 2011 murder. Gibson ruled the couple isn't married. That testimony will now be heard. However, attorneys say it's not likely the last we'll hear about this.
Geneva Case and Bobbie Jo Clary were united in a civil union in Vermont in 2004.
Bryan Gatewood represents Case and argued that because of that union, she shouldn't have to testify against Clary when Clary goes on trial in the killing of George Murphy in October 2011 in a Portland home.
Louisville Metro Police say Clary called Case shortly after the murder, had Case pick Clary up, told her what she had done and asked her to help her buy products to clean up blood from a van.
We've all heard that spouses can't be forced to testify and Gatewood argues they are spouses.
"I think everyone should be treated equally and I hope that's what comes out of this case," said Gatewood.
Gatewood said Vermont lawmakers intended partners joined in a civil union to enjoy all the same privileges of marriage.
"I think everyone acknowledges that the argument would be cleaner if it was a marriage," he said.
Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Lisa Cartier-Giroux said this isn't a gay rights issue. It's a legal one.
"I know everybody wanted it to be the issue because it's something that sells newspapers, it looks good on TV, it's controversial, but finally the truth has come out about what that relationship was," said Cartier-Giroux. "When George Murphy was murdered and robbed, they weren't living together anymore and our information is that they were actually involved romantically with other people."
Cartier-Giroux said what this ruling comes down to is the law.
"Frankly, it's because they're not married under Kentucky law," said Cartier-Giroux. "They're not married - more importantly - under Vermont law."
Vermont does allow gay couples to marry. It has since 2009, but case and Clary haven't.
"For whatever reason they chose not to in 2009, in 2010 and in 2011, up until October the 29th of 2011," said Cartier-Giroux.
But Gatewood said there's a reason: "why didn't you go back and get married? Cause we felt like we were married," he said quoting Case.
Gatewood said gay rights groups have contacted him and asked him to keep pushing to legitimize the couple's union. Gatewood said he is considering whether to appeal the ruling that will force case to testify. Cartier-Giroux says it's not really about them.
"They're becoming the victim and we're losing sight of George Murphy," she said.
In Gibson's ruling, she acknowledges that the legal, social and moral attitudes about same-sex marriage are rapidly changing, but she said it's not the court's job to judge the morality of laws in Kentucky and in this case, it's just not an issue because the two were not married.
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