Split between states on gay marriage raises question of right to divorce | Arkansas Blog

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Split between states on gay marriage raises question of right to divorce

Posted By on Sun, Dec 1, 2013 at 7:41 AM

Interesting story out of Mississippi, where Lauren Beth Czekala-Chatham, who traveled from her home in a small town in northern Mississippi to get married to her lesbian partner, Dana Ann Melancon, in San Francisco in 2008. Mississippi, of course, does not recognize the marriage. 

When things did not work out between the couple, Chatham filed for divorce in Mississippi in September. Obviously a right to divorce may not have the immediate sympathetic appeal of a right to marry, but it brings up the same equal protection questions and complicates the uneasy federalist compromise in the nation today. From the Associated Press story: 

Even as the number of states legalizing same-sex marriage will soon grow to 16, most states like Mississippi refuse to recognize such unions or to help dissolve them. Gay couples who move to those states after marrying elsewhere face roadblocks if they wish to divorce, as do couples from those states who make a brief foray out-of-state to get married.

Often, such couples in non-recognition states would have to move back to the state where they were married and establish residency in order to get divorced _ an option that can be unworkable in many cases.

"The idea you can't go to your local courthouse and file for divorce is very disruptive," said Peter Zupcofska, a Boston lawyer who has represented many gay and lesbian clients in marriage and divorce cases. "It's an enormous waste of effort and time."

The right to divorce isn't as upbeat a topic as the right to marry, but gay-rights lawyers and activists say it's equally important.

"The marriage system is a way we recognize and protect the commitments people make to their partner," said James Esseks, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project at the American Civil Liberties Union.

"Part of that system is creating a predictable, regularized way of dealing with the reality that relationships sometimes end," he said. "Those are the times people are the worst to each other, and that's why we have divorce courts. There's got to be an adult in the room."

Melancon now lives in Arkansas. She didn't comment for the AP story but said she also wants the divorce. 

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