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New York Commitment Ceremony Not a Legal Marriage


In 2002, Mauricio Leyton and his partner David Hunter had a commitment ceremony. This was a ceremony some homosexual couples used to signify their lifetime commitment when they were not allowed to be legally married.

Leyton and Hunter separated in 2010.

In 2013, Leyton passed away, but he had never changed his will which named Hunter as the executor of the estate and heir to half of it. Leyton's mother sued to have the commitment ceremony declared a legal marriage in light of the Supreme Court's decision to legalize gay marriage.

This would have been important because under New York law, where Leyton lived, if a person there passes away after a will has been executed, then any inheritance for an ex-spouse is stricken from the will. The mother reasoned that the couple's separation was the equivalent of a divorce.

In this case, that would have made her the sole heir to Leyton's estate.

In ruling against Leyton's mother the court decided that the commitment ceremony was not a legal marriage. The court further ruled that even if the ceremony had been a marriage, Leyton and Hunter would not have been divorced as they separated but never made any attempt to have a judge declare that separation a divorce.

Hunter will be able to keep his half of Leyton's estate. Hunter claims that it is what Leyton would have wanted as the two separated amicably.

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