Wednesday, March 02, 2005

50 Ways to Leave Your Partner

With Vermont civil unions, Massachusetts marriages, California domestic partnerships, and more on the horizon, the old Paul Simon tune gets a new twist. For lesbians and gay men, there's a handful of ways to legalize our relationships, and then there must be 50 ways to leave them: one for each state. When Vermont civil unions first arrived on the scene, many non-residents flocked to Vermont for the chance to legally affirm their relationships. As was inevitable, some of them didn't last, and the participants then sought to have their unions terminated in the courts of their home states. The courts have been mixed in their response to requests to dissolve civil unions. A judge in West Virginia has granted such a request, while a Texas judge has denied a similar request. An Iowa judge also granted a dissolution, but a meddlesome religious group has appealed that judge's ruling to the Iowa Supreme Court, arguing that granting a "divorce" would be tacit acceptance that there was a marriage. (I'm hoping the Iowa high court will do the right thing and toss the interlopers out for not having any standing to appeal.)

In a more recent (and sad) development, some lesbian parents have been making cynical use of "defense of marriage" laws and jurisdiction-shopping to evade former partners. In one case, a lesbian couple lived in Vermont, entered a civil union, and co-parented a child. When they broke up and dissolved their union in Vermont Court, the judge ordered visitation rights for the adoptive mother. The natural mother, not wishing to comply, took the child and moved to Virginia, where she is using that state's decidedly hostile position on gay families as a shield against her obligations. Now Vermont and Virginia judges are squabbling over who has jurisdiction and which state's laws apply. (Of course the only new twist here is the lesbian angle, and the conflict of state laws about same-sex families. Equally unscrupulous straight exes have been pulling such stunts for years.) You'd think that the Virginians might wise up to the anti-family effects demonstrated in such a case. Virginia is essentially offering safe harbor to a "deadbeat mom". Fortunately, some judges are doing the right thing and enforcing responsible behavior. In Texas, one lesbian mom sought to nullify the adoption by her now-former-partner of their child, but the judge refused. In Indiana, a judge has enforced visitation rights in one case, and enjoined child support in another. In Ohio, a new case is pending in which a lesbian mother is seeking to deny visitation rights to her former partner for their co-adopted child, based on the new state DOMA amendment. If the judge grants her request, it will show the anti-family flip side of these DOMA amendments, and if her request is denied, then responsibility will have prevailed.

Marriage is difficult, and it's sad but inevitable that some won't last. It's regrettable (and avoidable) that some gay people are willing to exploit the current lack of legal protection for gay families for their own self-serving and responsibility-evading ends. It's encouraging that some judges (even in some "red" states) have a proper perspective on responsibility, among other family values.

1 comment:

M.S. Hayes said...

interesting post. i'm gonna put a link to it on my site when i can....