by George Nielsen
Marriage in the LGBT community is a constant uphill battle. With legislation often leaning against their rights, many find it difficult to become legally wed with their significant other. And now, in the age of modern marriage, the problem has extended to divorce. Equal protection of the law, a clause written into the United States Constitution, is commonly overlooked or blatantly broken.
Marriages come with certain protections and clauses in both state and federal law. Taxes, social security, entitlements and more legal benefits require proof of marriage. In states where LGBT marriage has not been legalized, it’s enough of a battle for the slightest legal protections and benefits to be granted.
What happens to citizens in the LGBT community who choose to separate? Divorcees are also granted certain protections under the law including retirement benefits and social security entitlements. In states which don’t recognize same sex marriage, however, the best those in the LGBT can do is get their marriage voided, which provides no record, no legal recognition and no benefits.
One woman in Texas is taking the issue to court, a first for the state. Cori Jo Long married outside of the state because Texas would not grant legal marriage status. Married in 2010, she and Brooke Powell chose to divorce this year, but the only option for them in Texas is to void the marriage entirely. Long’s attorney explained, “If the court voids the marriage, she does not get anything. It’s like it never happened. You were never married.”
Long is bringing the case to court while Powell has chosen to accept the uncomfortable legal situation in Texas. Powell’s attorney said, “If you live in Texas, you kind of have to be okay with that. I know there are groups out there advocating for change. [Powell] would like to see the law change, but until then, she’s just living in Texas because this is where her heart is and where her family is.”
For conflicting state laws, even the simplest LGBT case becomes a complicated process, so what happens with a complicated case? Complete chaos. A heterosexual married couple can receive a divorce in as little as 60 days. LGBT filings can be prolonged for months or even years. And when child custody is involved, it can become an ugly situation in the courts with custody and visitation being denied because of court complications or adoptions being reversed. For both the children and parents, it’s an unfair and extremely unnerving ordeal.
According to Lasiter & Jackson, “Gay and lesbian parents face these issues on a daily basis, despite the findings of previous research which has shown gay and lesbian persons to be just as effective in parenting as heterosexual parents. Furthermore, children raised by gay and lesbian parents are as well-adjusted as their peers raised by heterosexual parents. However, in many states, sexual orientation continues to play a significant role within the courts in determining child custody awards.”
So far there are nineteen states which regularly recognizing same sex marriage. These include California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and Washington DC. States that are behind the times include Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, Michigan, Idaho, Arkansas, Texas and Wisconsin. Prior to 2004 same sex marriage was not recognized in any state.
For couples like Long and Powell, the law seems to always be against them. The youth and conflict covering LGBT laws becomes apparent quickly as the fine print is still in the process of being written. Fierce and often unjustified resistance has led to a track record of abuse throughout the legalization process in the United States. The pioneers of the LGBT community remain hopeful and continue to press the courts for their rights.