PITTSBURGH — Roland Bosee Jr. and Nino Esposito have been in a relationship for nearly a half-century, and in a legal limbo for more than a year.
But thanks to a Pennsylvania Superior Court ruling handed down Wednesday, the Fox Chapel couple is on the way to being married. And their case has established a statewide precedent for couples in similar circumstances.
A federal court made same-sex marriage legal in Pennsylvania in 2014; the U.S. Supreme Court asserted it as a constitutional right the following year. But Bosee and Esposito still haven’t been able to marry — despite having been in a relationship since 1970 — because in 2012 Esposito, 79, had adopted his 69-year-old partner.
As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported in the first story on their situation in October 2015, an uncounted number of same-sex couples have used adult adoption as a way of protecting inheritance and other rights before the law recognized same-sex marriage. “We thought never in our lifetime — or in 20 lifetimes — would same-sex marriage happen,” Bosee said at the time.
When it did, they found themselves in a catch-22: Getting married required a court order dissolving their adoption, but in June 2015 Allegheny County Judge Lawrence O’Toole said the state’s Adoption Law limited his ability to do so, unless fraud was involved.
Other county courts in the state had ruled the other way, and noting the unusual circumstances, O’Toole asked for guidance from a higher court. Thanks to an appeal by Bosee and Esposito, 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 noted that 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.”
In a statement, Esposito said he and Bosee were “relieved. … This is a wonderful Christmas gift for us, after waiting all these months and wondering what would happen.”
The court sent the case back to O’Toole with instructions to grant the dissolution, but the ruling offers guidance to Orphans Court judges anywhere in the state who may face similar circumstances.
In a statement, attorneys Andrew Gross and Mikhail Pappas, who represented the couple, hailed the ruling as “a victory for our clients because it means that they can finally marry each other. As a precedential decision that reinforces the fundamental right to marry, it’s also a victory for same sex couples throughout Pennsylvania.”