Breaking Up Is Hard to Do: Marriage Is One Thing. but What Happens When Partners Part? for Gay Couples Splitting Up, It's Still a Legal 'No Man's Land'

By Rosenberg, Debra | Newsweek, July 7, 2003 | Go to article overview

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do: Marriage Is One Thing. but What Happens When Partners Part? for Gay Couples Splitting Up, It's Still a Legal 'No Man's Land'


Rosenberg, Debra, Newsweek


Byline: Debra Rosenberg

When Texans Russell Smith and John Anthony traveled to Vermont to join in a civil union in February 2002, they had all the romantic intentions of any couple exchanging "I do's." But like the 50 percent of Americans whose marriages end in divorce, Smith and Anthony later decided to call it quits. Because the two had shared business deals, Smith worried he might one day face financial obligations from his ex. So he filed for divorce in a Texas court. Though a district judge initially agreed to grant one, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott intervened. He feared granting a divorce would signal that the state recognized the union in the first place--a step Texas and other states aren't yet willing to take. "A court cannot grant a divorce where no marriage existed," Abbott argued. The judge reversed the divorce and the couple was forced to hash things out on their own. "They were just wanting to legally terminate this relationship," says Anthony's lawyer, Tommy Gunn. "Obviously the divorce route did not work."

If gay couples think it's tough to get married, they may find it's even harder to split up. Few want to think about it on the way to the altar, but "we're not immune to relationship problems," says David Buckel, an attorney who directs the marriage project at Lambda Legal. Though all it takes is a romantic weekend to tie the knot under Canada's just-passed same-sex marriage law or get linked by civil union in Vermont, both places require at least one member of the couple to establish residency for a year before granting a divorce or official dissolution. Of the roughly 5,000 civil unions performed so far in Vermont, the only state that legally recognizes the same-sex commitments, 85 percent went to out-of-staters. …

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