What happens if a now-legal gay marriage falls apart? Luckily, in the U.S., divorce is the one part of marriage law that’s actually ready to go when it comes to same-sex couples.
I was pleased that the Supreme Court of the United States had the good sense to rule that equality under the law means marriage equality. Or rather, five of the justices had the good sense to rule that way. Now, same-sex couples can enjoy the same benefits of marriage as heterosexual couples. Equality is, however, a two-edged sword. Not only is same-sex marriage now legal in all 50 states, but same-sex divorce is, too.
Let’s not kid ourselves. Traditional marriages of a straight man and a straight woman can fall apart, and divorce has become common to the point of tedium. The belief that half of all marriages end in divorce is almost certainly wrong, but there’s good reason to believe the rate is around one in five. And supporters of marriage of any variety shouldn’t necessarily cheer that lower number. All that means is that many more marriages end in death than previously believed.
If all love is equal, then all betrayal, disinterest and growth in different directions is equal, too. Initial reports that same-sex divorce rates were actually lower than those for heterosexual couples have proved wrong owing to mathematical ineptitude. The fact is that about 2 percent of marriages end in divorce each year, and in places where same-sex marriage has been around long enough for data to be meaningful, the variety of marriage doesn’t seem to matter.
Much has been made of the nature of marriage during the recent debate, but if you look at what happens in a divorce, you see pretty clearly what marriage really is about. Provisions have to be made for any children, and the property has to be divided up. That’s it — no union of souls. It’s a straightforward matter of contract law.
In fact, the nature of marriage as a contract created huge issues in Texas right before the Supremes did their number in the Obergefell case that established marriage equality.
Two women were married in Massachusetts in 2004, and in 2010 got a divorce in Austin, Texas (one of the islands of sanity and civilization in the Lone Star State). Gov. Greg Abbott (a knuckle-dragging yahoo, the kind of which Texas has a massive surplus) was Attorney General when the AG challenged the divorce in court. The argument was that a marriage Texas didn’t recognize couldn’t be dissolved in a Texas court — that is, if the divorce were upheld, it would be tacit admission that there was a marriage in the first place. The Texas Supreme Court weaseled out of a decision by noting how damned long it took the AG office to complain.
So, what to do if you are shackled in a loveless, pointless union to another person who shares the same type of genitalia but little else? The good news is that divorce law is exceedingly well-worked out in the U.S. in every state, and it’s the one part of marriage law that is ready to go when it comes to same-sex couples.
It used to be that Nevada had a near monopoly on quickie divorces. And it seems the lawyers there are just as eager to help same-sex couples part ways. New York lawyers, however, (the Great Whites among the shark-like professional of American Law) have made a play for the gay and lesbian divorce dollar. (NOTE: I don’t endorse any of the law firms cited here; I merely link to them to illustrate my case. Truthfully, you know as much about these lawyers as I do — I used Google to find them.)
From what I can tell, the only states that are unprepared for same-sex divorce are those that had to be dragged kicking and screaming to acknowledge same-sex marriage. And even then, the courts seem pretty willing to take things on. One couple in Tennessee filed their divorce papers almost as soon as the ink dried on Justice Antonin Scalia’s petulant dissent.
So, to my friends who are now equal in marriage, welcome to it — warts and all.
P.S. This isn’t the end of things. For instance, in many states, your boss can legally fire you for being gay or lesbian. As Mikhail Bakunin, the 19th century anarchist leader, said, “I am truly free only when all human beings, men and women, are equally free. The freedom of other men, far from negating or limiting my freedom, is, on the contrary, its necessary premise and confirmation.”
Jeff Myhre is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.