Gay Marriage & Gay Divorce

Scales of JusticeIt is wonderful that gay marriage is finally being recognized as a fundamental right in several states across the country.

As the number of states that will marry same-sex couples increases, it is becoming more common for couples to take a trip to one of these progressive states to tie the knot. Unfortunately, and I am loathe to have to address this, it is quite difficult to untie the knot and to obtain a divorce should the relationship go sour.

Although the United States Constitution provides for contracts entered into in one state to be given “full faith and credit” in another state, a marriage contract is treated differently. This means that a couple who reside in Pennsylvania, which does not recognize same sex marriage, who travel to New York for their wedding, and then decide to divorce, cannot be divorced in Pennsylvania. And, unless and until one of them returns to New York to live for a period of at least one year to become an official resident of the State of New York, they are unable to obtain a divorce in New York.

A divorce is often a messy and lengthy process. The process becomes even more complicated for gay couples that get married out of state. Unfortunately, the vast majority of couples are not educated about the difficulties associated with same-sex divorces. Hopefully, as more states begin to wise up and allow gay marriages, this will become a non-issue in the future. For the time being, we live in a country where there is a Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”) which protects individual states from having to give “full faith and credit” to gay marriage contracts. So, it is very important to remain informed and educate yourself on the difficulties that same-sex couples still face in the year 2012.

Although several months old, I invite you to read Karen Hartman’s article in The New York Times from July, 17, 2011 on being bound in a gay marriage. It is the fascinating, sometimes humorous and informative tale of the challenges she faced in attempting to divorce in a state that doesn’t recognize that her marriage ever existed.


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Ellen S. Fischer of the Law Office of Ellen S. Fischer has been working closely with individuals and families throughout the greater Philadelphia region for more than 20 years. Ellen received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Temple University and returned to earn a Juris Doctor degree from the Temple University School of Law. Ellen serves on a number of leadership committees and is a member of Gay and Lesbian Lawyers of Philadelphia (GALLOP). In addition to LGBTQ services, Ellen's practice areas are family law and personal injury.