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Friday, March 22, 2013

Same-Sex Couples Battle For Divorce Equality

Jessica Port, front left, and her attorney Michele Zavos, front right, speak to reporters after the Court of Appeals of Maryland heard her case for divorce from her wife, Virginia Anne Cowan, back right, Friday, April 6, 2012, in Annapolis, Md. The couple married in California but were denied a divorce in Maryland. (Steve Ruark/AP)

Jessica Port, front left, and her attorney Michele Zavos, front right, speak to reporters after the Court of Appeals of Maryland heard her case for divorce from her wife, Virginia Anne Cowan, back right, Friday, April 6, 2012, in Annapolis, Md. The couple married in California but were denied a divorce in Maryland. (Steve Ruark/AP)

A poll conducted by the Washington Post and ABC News shows the majority of Americans now support gay marriage: 58 percent say it should be legal, 36 percent say it should be illegal.

That’s almost a complete switch from a decade ago when 37 percent of Americans were in favor of it and 55 percent opposed it.

The American Academy of Pediatrics yesterday put its support behind same-sex marriage, pointing to research that children do well in homes that are stable emotionally and financially, regardless of the sexual orientation of parents.

“If, unfortunately, you’re one of the statistics of the marriages that end in divorce, you may find yourself unable to get a divorce in your home state.”
– Susan Sommer

Dr. Benjamin Siegel, chair of the academy’s Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health, and a co-author of the policy statement said “Children thrive in families that are stable and that provide permanent security, and the way we do that is through marriage. The AAP believes there should be equal opportunity for every couple to access the economic stability and federal supports provided to married couples to raise children.”

With public support for same sex marriage growing, next week the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing two cases on the question of equal access to marriage for gay couples.

Equal access to marriage is one thing, but what happens when a relationship fails? What about equal access to divorce?

Susan Sommer is senior counsel and director of constitutional litigation for Lambda Legal, an organization that works for civil rights in the LGBT community and for those with HIV.

She says the issue of divorce rests on residency, and that’s complicated when the state a married same-sex couple lives in does not recognize gay marriage.

“So you may go off in the blush of happiness and love and get married in a state that recognizes the right of same-sex couples to marry, return to your state, a place that does not recognize the marriages of same-sex couples,” Sommer told Here & Now’s Robin Young. “If, unfortunately, you’re one of the statistics of the marriages that end in divorce, you may find yourself unable to get a divorce in your home state.”

Returning to the state where the marriage took place is not an option for most couples. Many states require a period of residency before a couple can be divorced there.

Sommer says state laws on same-sex divorce are as much of a patchwork as they are on same sex marriage.

“Wyoming for example, the high court had a case of a same-sex couple who had married in Canada,” Sommer said. “The court said, we can’t say to what extent the marriage gets recognized for any other purposes, but we can end it.”

Some states that recognize same-sex unions are beginning to write escape hatches into their statues, Sommer said.

“If you can’t get divorced back in the state that you live in, you you may return here to the place where you got married,” Sommer said, paraphrasing that type of provision. “And if you don’t have complicated disputes over property or custody of your children, you can come back here and we’ll let you get divorced here.”

Guest:

  • Susan Sommer, senior counsel and director of constitutional litigation for Lambda Legal, an organization that works for civil rights in the LGBT community and for those with HIV.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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