Questioning the Legality of Straight Marriage

One for the Annuls Dept.
By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  December 4, 2009

When it comes to supporting gay rights, two straight Boston University grads are putting their marriage where their mouths are. Matthew D'Olimpio and Rachel Murch D'Olimpio, both 29 and now living with their infant son in Brooklyn, have started the "Annul Our Marriage in the Name of Equality" campaign on Facebook; they have 255 members so far.

Discouraged by the defeat of same-sex marriage in Maine this November, and nervous about the outcome of a New York State Senate same-sex-marriage vote that may come before the end of this year, the couple decided to act. If the New York State Senate does not address, or votes down, same-sex marriage before the end of this year, the D'Olimpios will seek to have their marriage officially annulled, on the grounds that it — and all marriages, until same-sex couples can tie the knot, too — is "discriminatory and unconstitutional."

We talked to Matthew via e-mail about what the campaign means to him and his wife, and for their fledgling union.

Why are you embarking on this campaign?
When we got married [in 2007], our legal marriage was almost an afterthought. We did it really in case we had children, to facilitate certain benefits and to ensure certain rights were given to us should one of us get sick or pass away. So, [six months before their private, non-religious, non-governmental marriage commitment ceremony] we decided to go to City Hall and just get married to little fanfare, and we did — with just three witnesses. . . . We had recently moved back to New York from Massachusetts . . . we got married thinking that same-sex marriage was a foregone conclusion. The recent events, in Maine especially, told us that our assumption couldn't be further from the truth — that same-sex marriage and all the civil rights that are associated with it really were at risk of dying out and not passing here in New York. I wasn't going to let that happen without some kind of a fight.

Rachel agreed instantly. The most obvious action that we could think of was having our marriage annulled and letting as many people as we could know what we were doing and why we were doing it, and making a fight through the courts, should we get that far. A public demonstration of support for all couples, gay or straight, in New York and elsewhere.

Why did you choose to pursue an annulment, as opposed to a divorce?
An annulment is a blameless, truly no-fault void of a marriage on the grounds that the circumstances involving the marriage prevent it from being a valid contract. Divorce implies, rightly or wrongly, some kind of failure of a marriage. . . . We only want to nullify the legal contract with the state of New York.

What are the logistical realities of doing this?
We're still trying to figure this out. . . . We've had two lawyers who are friendly to the cause offer some pro-bono counseling should we get to that stage. Essentially, we would have to file a request to annul our marriage at the City Clerk's office, which would almost certainly be rejected outright and immediately. We would then need to challenge the denial in the appropriate court of jurisdiction (which is where our ignorance takes over, and we would begin relying on legal counsel), and should they reject it, continue the appeals process all the way up as high as they'll let us go. We intend to appeal our rejection on the grounds that our marriage is knowingly and actively unconstitutionally discriminatory, and therefore can't be a valid contract.

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