Adoption decision ends marriage predicament for gay couples in Pennsylvania
December 22, 2016 12:12 AM
Nino Esposito and Roland Bosee have been together for 45 years.
By Chris Potter / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Roland Bosee Jr. and Nino Esposito havebeen in a relationship for nearly a half-century and in legal limbo for over a year.
But thanks to a Pennsylvania Superior Court ruling Wednesday, the Fox Chapel men are on the way to being married. And their case has established a statewide precedent for couples in similar circumstances.
“It feels wonderful that this is finally over,” said Mr. Esposito. “And I’m glad we could help everybody who needed to be helped.”
U.S. District Court in Harrisburg made same-sex marriage legal in Pennsylvania in 2014; the U.S. Supreme Court asserted it as a constitutional right the following year. But despite having been in a relationship since 1970, Mr. Bosee and Mr. Esposito still haven't able to marry — because in 2012 Mr. Esposito, who is now 80, had adopted his 69-year-old partner.
Once it did, the men found themselves in a Catch-22: Getting married required a court order dissolving their adoption, but in June 2015 Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Lawrence O'Toole said the state's adoption law limited his ability to do so, unless fraud was involved.
Mr. Bosee and Mr. Esposito appealed; noting that other Pennsylvania judges had ruled differently, Judge O'Toole asked for guidance from a higher court. He got it Wednesday, when a three-judge Superior Court panel ruled that “under the circumstances of this case, Pennsylvania law permits an unopposed annulment or revocation of an adult adoption.”
“Although the Adoption Act does not expressly provide for the annulment of the adult adoption, case law does allow it in certain scenarios; and this case presents wholly new and unique circumstances,” wrote President Judge Susan Peikes Gantman.
Her opinion said other states had dissolved adult adoptions under similar circumstances, and that thanks to federal court action, “Pennsylvania law regarding same sex marriage [has] changed; same-sex couples in this Commonwealth may now exercise their fundamental right to marry. Therefore, where a same-sex couple, who previously obtained an adult adoption, now seeks to annul or revoke the adoption in order to marry, the Orphans’ court has the authority to annul or revoke the adult adoption.”
Attorneys Andrew Gross and Mikhail Pappas, who represented the couple, hailed the ruling as both “a victory for our clients because it means that they can finally marry each other,” and “a victory for same-sex couples throughout Pennsylvania.”
The ACLU of Pennsylvania filed a brief in the case. Legal director Vic Walczak hailed the decision as “a fair and practical ruling that allows gay and lesbian couples who got creative in protecting their interests to [exercise] their constitutional right to marry.”
Mr. Esposito said the decision was “a relief. We thought this was a lost cause. It took so long, we worried something must be up.”
The court sent the matter back to Judge O’Toole with instructions to dissolve the adoption. Mr. Esposito said the men then plan to be married quietly.
“I’m sure some friends and family will want to do something,” he said. “But at our age, we’re not worrying about ceremonies.”
Chris Potter: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2533.
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