Could someone in a civil union in another country get married in the US without a "divorce"?

New Zealand (and others?) allows civil unions for both same and opposite sex couples. As I understand it, it’s pretty much the same as marriage in everything but name.

If someone in a opposite sex civil union came to the US, could they legally marry someone else without getting a divorce (or whatever it’s called) from the civil union? I’m just picking on opposite sex because it seems more likely to happen since every state has opposite sex marriage but I guess the same question applies to someone in a same sex civil union in another country.

I guess the real question is: Do marriage licenses literally ask about previous “marriages” or do they have more vague “marriage or similar relationship” kind of words?

I remember reading about someone in Michigan or another nearby state who was being stonewalled trying to get a divorce from a legal gay marriage done in Ontario. It turned out that the court would not dissolve something that they considered void ab initio. So, he could marry a woman in Michigan, but could possibly be charged with bigamy if he returned to Canada.

It would probably depend on which state, since they have different policies on recognizing same sex unions and marriages. Some states simply don’t recognize them as valid under any circumstances, and so they wouldn’t be a bar to marriage.

What don’t they recognize as valid? Civil unions in general (and in this case, how do they tell them apart from marriages, especially when they’re essentially the same thing, like in the UK?) or same-sex civil unions in which case many of them wouldn’t be automatically invalid (for instance, even though it was originally created for homosexuals, 95% of French civil unions are now between heterosexuals)?

They don’t recognize any existing legal relationship between the two people.

While the wiki article isn’t explicit, I don’t think a same sex civil union would be handled any differently in the rest of the states. These states (and the federal government) simply views these couples as two individuals with no additional legal relationship.

Which seems to cover tetranz’s secondary question regarding same-sex Civil Unions, but opposite-sex?

To continue using NZ as the example then, if I get married (opposite-sex) under the Marriage Act 1955 and go to the US I’ll still be considered to be married, yes?

If I get married (opposite-sex) under the Civil Union Act 2004 and go to the US… I’ll still be considered to be married as well?

But if I get married (same-sex) under the Civil Union Act 2004 and go to the US then all bets are off?

(Is that right?)

Depending on the country, it is actually called “civil marriage” in the original but gets translated to “civil union” for political reasons; it is also defined as “the kind of marriage that’s recognized by the government”. If it’s recognized by the government it’s a civil marriage, if it’s something held in the private domain with no government notification or recognition then it doesn’t, legally speaking, exist.

In other words, there are countries where a “civil union” isn’t a marriage in everything but name, it is the only legally-valid marriage there is.

Seems like if a couple had an unrecognized marriage in, let’s say, Texas, then one of them might be eligible for welfare, or if they have kids, AFDC. Seems like making Texas put up some $ might be the real test of the Texas commitment to ‘traditional’ marriage.

Every state has its own laws regarding marriage, but my guess would be that in most cases, they simply ask about “marriage.” But that doesn’t mean there’s a loophole. If it goes to court, then the court will determine whether the legal relationship in the other country is sufficiently like a marriage to be recognized as one in the state. They won’t worry about the absence of specific wording such as “or similar relationship.”

It’s also interesting to consider what would happen if he married in Michigan, and then Michigan adopted a law recognizing the validity of same-sex unions. Would he become a criminal bigamist at the moment this law was adopted? I suppose it depends on how the law is worded, or if the law doesn’t account for this possibility, I suppose it would be left up to the courts to rule (assuming he were ever charged).

Indiana wants me, Lord, I can’t go back there
Indiana wants me, Lord, I can’t go back there
I wish I had you to talk to . . . .

Civil partnerships [sic] can only be same-sex in the UK.

I’m wondering if any of the jurisdictions in the US that don’t recognise same-sex marriages in general terms, might nevertheless give cognisance to them in some circumstances. For example, polygamy is illegal in England, but a foreign polygamous marriage may be given recognition for certain purposes (NOTE: PDF format).

Suppose man M marries woman F in a US state that doesn’t recognise same-sex marriages. F subsequently discovers that M has an undissolved civil partnership under UK law. Surely at least some of those non-recognising states would nevertheless recognise that this would be a reasonable ground to have the marriage annulled or dissolved…?

I think the answer to this would be obviously yes. There are lots of grounds for divorce, not just bigamy, and some states don’t even require grounds. But I doubt that any court would be forced to acknowledge the legitimacy of the objectionable foreign marriage solely to dissolve that marriage.

Quebec has both marriage and civil unions for both same-sex and opposite-sex couples. They are 99% the same, but you can get married (to the same person) after you get a civil union. I’m in an opposite-sex civil union in Quebec, which allowed my civil spouse to be considered a Quebec resident for the purpose of tuition and grants and stuff, but still leaves the possibility open for us to get regular-married in the future. (we did the civil union thing super quickly at the courthouse because of deadline issues and only had immediate family there)

As for what our status is in the US, we THINK it varies by state. In Wisconsin, for example, there’s a constitutional amendment which says that anything that’s like marriage but not marriage is not recognized. But whether we could theoretically get married to other people, and whether this would make us bigamists in Quebec, is presumably something that would have to be hashed out in court.

As interesting as I think it would be to answer this question via the courts, I would appreciate it if you not go that route! :wink:


aww, you’re depriving the lawyers of a chance to make new law!

I’m curious as to the answer to this question aswell, so can we leave out the Red herring of same sex marriages and address the basic question /

If someone gets married in an official ceremony in Mongolia, or Iceland or Russia , whatever, would they be breaking the law if they then went on to marry someone in the U.S. or S.Africa, or Spain or anywhere.

I have no personal stake in this but my curiousity has been piqued.

Getting sidetracked into the debate about same sex civil unions serves only to muddy the waters rather then addressing the question.

I’ll make my declarations, I have no strong views on same sex marriages either way.
Though I would suppose that I’m more in favour of it then against.

Most governments that limit the number of marriages one can be engaged in simultaneously also give general recognition to marriages recognized by law of other jurisdictions.