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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August,16 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 33
A question of privilege - Could a Lesbian's murder trial lead to marriage equality in Kentucky?
Section One
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A question of privilege - Could a Lesbian's murder trial lead to marriage equality in Kentucky?

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The case of a Kentucky Lesbian on trial for murder may lead to a constitutional challenge to that state's ban on same-sex marriages, attorneys for the accused say.

Bobbie Jo Clary is accused of beating George Murphy to death with a hammer, stealing his van, and then tampering with evidence to conceal her crime. She claims she acted in self-defense after Murphy tried to rape her with the hammer. If convicted, Clary could face the death penalty.

Prosecutors have insisted that Clary's partner, Geneva Chase, testify in the trial. Chase heard Clary admit to the killing and saw Murphy's blood in the interior of his van after the incident, they allege.

Chase wishes to avoid testifying on the grounds that she is the legal spouse of the accused woman. Under Kentucky law, a person cannot be called to testify against his or her spouse.

MARITAL STATUS UNCLEAR
Clary and Chase obtained a civil union in Vermont in 2004, before that state allowed Lesbian and Gay couples to marry.

The Kentucky state constitution prohibits same-sex marriages, however, and prosecutors say they can compel Chase to testify.

'Kentucky's marital privilege law does not give Ms. Case the right not to testify in a murder trial,' said Stacy Greive, assistant commonwealth attorney for Jefferson County, where the trial is taking place.

'And the reason marital privilege does not apply to Ms. Case in her relationship with the defendant is because it is our opinion and our belief that they do not have a marriage that is recognized under Kentucky law.'

Greive argues that not only is the union not recognized in Kentucky, but the couple has not presented proof they have a valid marriage under Vermont law, either.

'They have a civil union, if you look at Vermont's statutes, they distinguish between civil unions and marriage,' Greive said.

HOPING TO SET PRECEDENT
Both Clary's attorney, Angela Elleman, and Case's attorney, Bryan Gatewood, said the Kentucky marriage amendment is unconstitutional and the pair should be treated like any other married couple.

The attorneys also say they are cautiously optimistic that this case will lead to the state amendment being ruled unconstitutional, setting a precedent for change nationwide.

In light of recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings on Gay marriage, 'the climate is right' for the Kentucky amendment to be thrown out, Elleman said. It makes no sense that Kentucky does not recognize legal unions of same-sex partners but does recognize common-law marriages from other states, she added.

The case is also causing stress on Clary and Chase's relationship, Elleman said. 'The commonwealth [of Kentucky] is seeking to call her wife as a witness against her, which obviously would cause irreparable harm to their relationship.'

'I believe the handwriting is already on the wall,' Gatewood said. The Kentucky attorney general's office, which says it is reviewing the case, will find that the state law is unconstitutional under the same reasoning, he added.

ANOTHER MARRIAGE BENEFIT
Susan Sommer, an attorney for Lambda Legal, told Reuters she was not familiar with the details of the Kentucky case, but she said Lambda believes same-sex couples should have the same legal protections as other married people.

'Spousal privilege is one part of the tremendous bundle of protections for a committed couple that come automatically with marriage,' Sommer said.

The trial is set for August 30. Jefferson County Judge Susan Schultz Gibson is expected to rule on the spousal privilege issue later this month.

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