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Saturday, November 26, 2005
On this day:

Marital Privilege & Sanctity of Marriage

The WP reports on a loving couple, "registered as domestic partners," simply trying to have a marital privilege statute read in a "gender-neutral" manner.

Marital Privilege Sought to Exclude Gay Partner as Witness
Man Fighting Charges He Helped Steal From School System Says Law Should Be Gender-Neutral

Associated Press
Saturday, November 26, 2005; A09

NEW YORK, Nov. 25 -- A gay man charged with helping his lover loot a wealthy school district has asked a judge to rule that state law protecting spouses from having to testify against each other also applies to same-sex partners.

Stephen Signorelli, fighting charges that he stole at least $219,000 from the Roslyn, N.Y., school district, is seeking to bar testimony by his longtime companion, Frank Tassone, the district's former superintendent.

Auditors say that in all, $11.2 million was taken from the Long Island district. It is considered among the largest thefts from a U.S. school system.

Tassone pleaded guilty this year to stealing $1 million between 1996 and 2002. As part of his plea deal, he agreed to testify against other defendants in the case, which meant he might have to take the stand in Signorelli's trial.

In a motion filed before a judge in Nassau County, Signorelli sought to bar such an appearance, saying he and Tassone deserved the same protection as a heterosexual couple.

"Mr. Tassone and I have been loving partners for 33 years," Signorelli said in an affidavit, adding that the two had participated in "a solemn religious ceremony" conducted while they were on a Caribbean cruise "to memorialize our relationship and love for one another."

The two registered as domestic partners in New York City, where they live, in 2002.

"It's our position that the statute should be read gender-neutral," Signorelli's attorney, Kenneth Weinstein, told Newsday. "If a heterosexual couple can assert marital privilege, then a homosexual couple should be able to do the same."

Signorelli is charged with helping in the theft of at least $219,000 by submitting phony and padded invoices for the printing of school handbooks.

Weinstein and an attorney for Tassone did not immediately return telephone messages left at their offices Friday.

Prosecutors have yet to respond to the motion, and Judge Alan L. Honorof has not indicated how he might rule.

But is that really what is going on? If this were about Mr. & Mrs. Jones, it's not clear that Mrs. Jones could invoke the privilege to keep from testifying against Mr. Jones. First, Mr. & Mrs. Jones would be co-defendants. Second, Mrs. Jones would have entered into a plea agreement in which she agreed to testify against Mr. Jones. Failure to do so would appear to be a violation of her plea agreement.

Perhaps in New York, the defendant-spouse controls whether his spouse can testify against him in a criminal proceeding. In many states, that's not how the marital privilege works any more. It is often up to the witness-spouse whether to testify or the privilege is restricted to "confidential communications."

Why is this important? Doesn't it go to the very core of the definition of marriage? Is marriage the coming together of a man and a woman to become one? Can a woman's mouth be compelled (or coerced) to testify against her hand? Can a wife be compelled (or coerced) to testify against her husband? Who is fighting to further the sanctity of marriage? Do those who seek homosexual "marriage" actually seek to preserve marriage? (Or when they cannot obtain the benefits of marriage do they seek to destroy marriage?) Is the Religious Right so preoccupied with preventing homosexual "marriage" that it has become distracted from defending marriage itself?