(Wilmington, March 13, 2012) — On Friday, a Delaware Superior Court in Wilmington issued a stipulated order that respects the private communications of a Delaware same-sex couple married in California prior to the effective date of Delaware's civil union law. Lambda Legal, Equality Delaware, and ACLU Delaware in this lawsuit , where one of the men had charged his employer with sexual orientation discrimination, urging the court to recognize spousal privilege as one of the rights of same-sex couples under Delaware’s newly enacted civil union law.

"On Friday, the Delaware Superior Court recognized that spousal privilege applies to all private communications this married couple had prior to the civil union law taking effect at the beginning of this year," said Susan Sommer, Lambda Legal Director of Constitutional Litigation. "Couples share everything together, and this order is recognition of the reality that same-sex couples, like other families, share the ups and downs of life and lean on each other for emotional support. Respecting same-sex couples’ privacy and the importance of their relationships is critical."

"This order affirms spousal protections under our civil union law," said Lisa Goodman, President of Equality Delaware.  "We believe this is the first consideration of the civil union law by a Delaware court, and are gratified that the result upholds the intent of the law, which is to treat same-sex couples in a Delaware civil union no differently than a married couple."

"We are pleased with this order. Under Delaware’s civil union law, couples married in another jurisdiction are entitled to the same rights and protections as married couples – including the spousal privilege," said Richard H. Morse, ACLU Delaware attorney.

David Theil and Kenneth Lanza were married in California in 2008. In February 2010, Theil filed a lawsuit against his former employer, an international dental products company, alleging sexual orientation discrimination. The defendants subpoenaed documents and testimony from Theil’s spouse, Kenneth Lanza.  Theil moved to quash the subpoena to the extent it would call for disclosure of confidential communications between the spouses, including communications before the civil union law took effect.

Lambda Legal, Equality Delaware, and ACLU Delaware filed a friend-of-the-court brief arguing that the couple’s communications, both before and after the January 1, 2012 civil union law, are protected. Couples married in another jurisdiction are deemed civil union spouses in Delaware, who in turn are entitled to the same rights and protections as married couples – including the spousal privilege for confidential communications.

The case is Theil v. Dentsply Intern’l, Inc. and Dentsply LLC.

Stay informed

ACLU of Delaware is part of a network of affiliates

Learn more about ACLU National