Everyone deserves the right to enjoy both the emotional and legal benefits that come along with a government recognized "I Do." But same-sex marriage activists rarely discuss the importance of divorce rights, because it's not great for the cause to talk about unstable gay relationships (as hypocritical as it may be, given that nearly half of U.S. marriages end in divorce), but also because no one wants to talk about divorce. Divorce sucks. It's way more inspiring to envision eager couples lining up at City Hall. But what happens when it all falls apart?
The Atlantic Wire's Jen Doll profiled the public, emotional breakup of Katie Marks and Dese'Rae Stage, one of the first gay couples to marry in New York after the passage of the Marriage Equality Act last June. It's hard to imagine a better poster-couple for same-sex marriage, which might be why the Pop Up Chapel still has their photo up on its website, complete with a bio that's somewhat painful to read even if you've never met the pair:
They've accumulated quite the furry family, but also look forward to meeting the children they've named and have yet to conceive. All in all, they complete each other, and they think that's pretty awesome. Says Dese'Rae: "I know we've already started a life together, but I can't wait to be able to call her my wife."
A year later, Marks and Stage are one of the state's first divorced gay couples, thanks (according to Stage) to Marks' affair with a woman she met on Instagram. "I feel like I'm the president of the loneliest club in the world," Stage told the Atlantic Wire. "I was the first gay person in my group of friends to marry, and now I'm the only gay divorcée I know."
Breakup sob stories are nothing new; you don't need an official decree to know that divorce is painful. But gay couples don't have the same federal protections that straight couples do, even in states that actually allow same-sex marriage. In states like Florida, where gay marriage isn't legal, the fates of same-sex couples (who got hitched in another state) are determined by judges on a case-by-case basis. Doll writes:
We need to acknowledge that the rights of marriage are as much about moments of crisis as they are about the moments of happiness: when a spouse loses a job, the law continues health care benefits under COBRA; when a spouse is injured, the law grants hospital visitation rights; or when a spouse dies, the law provides Social Security benefits and inheritance. So, too, are divorce rights - all the mechanisms jurisdictions have devised to divide a love broken, property, finances, and child custody - most needed when a wedding day's joy has long faded.
If your state doesn't support same-sex marriage, you might have to forget about alimony. And what happens when a biological mom decides her former partner shouldn't have access to her child? Even without kids, finances can get complicated: for example, straight couples have a mechanism for splitting up a 401(k), but same-sex couples do not.
Shannon Minter, Legal Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, told the Atlantic Wire that the "flood of couples" that impulsively marry after a state gets rid of a marriage bar should think more carefully about the decision: "it's a serious step, and it has significant legal consequences." But he added that discussing the issue of equal divorce rights might actually be good for the end goal: "...nothing has humanized gay couples more than for straight people to realize gay couples need to divorce, too."
After Gay Marriage Comes Gay Divorce [The Atlantic]
(Image via Sarah Tew Photography.)