On Friday, June 26, the Supreme Court of the United States made history with a controversial 5 – 4 ruling that declared gay marriage the law of the land, establishing a right to same sex marriage nationwide. Gay marriage was already legal in much of the country prior to Friday’s ruling. Now, some of the first gay and lesbian couples to say their “I do’s” are breaking ground in another heterosexual institution — traditional divorce.
In Texas, where judges and politicians firmly oppose gay marriage, the court system has already been debating how to handle the issue of gay divorce. Some LGBT activists thought Texan judges would be happy to help put a stop to gay marriages, one at a time. Instead, many judges argued they could not dissolve a marriage they don’t recognize as legally valid.
Texas couple Angelique Naylor and Sabina Daly married in Massachusetts but filed for divorce in Travis County, TX, where a judge granted the divorce. The state’s attorney general challenged that ruling, and the lesbian couple’s case soon reached the Texas Supreme Court. The case was dismissed largely over technicalities; a majority of justices said the state of Texas had no standing to pursue the case.
“I would allow the attorney general to make his argument that Texas law imposes an absolute jurisdictional constraint and constitutionally prohibits a judge not only from performing a same-sex marriage but also from dissolving one,” wrote Texas Supreme Court Justice Don R. Willett in a dissenting opinion. “In my view, the State’s chief legal officer—sworn to ‘preserve, protect, and defend’ Texas law — should in fact be permitted to preserve, protect, and defend it.”
But at the end of June, the SCOTUS rendered that legal question moot. Gay and lesbian spouses will now enjoy the full protections and benefits that come with matrimony, as well as the same negative consequences that come with traditional divorce.
According to divorce lawyers, the average length of a first marriage that ends in divorce is eight years. That means that even as thousands of gay and lesbian couples get married this summer, the first generation of same sex divorces are just now entering the legal system.