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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 30, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 52
D.C. considers same-sex divorce bill
Section One
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D.C. considers same-sex divorce bill

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

A District of Columbia Council member has introduced a bill to allow same-sex couples who marry in D.C. but live in states that do not recognize their marriages to return to D.C. to get divorced.

The D.C. Council legalized same-sex marriages in December 2009.

Democratic Council member Phil Mendelson says he introduced the Civil Marriage Dissolution Equality Amendment because states that do not recognize same-sex marriage have no legal mechanism that would allow Gay or Lesbian couples to dissolve their D.C. marriages.

Mendelson's bill states that:

'An action for divorce by persons of the same gender, even if one or neither party to the marriage is a bona fide resident of the District of Columbia & would be eligible for a divorce in the city if the following circumstance apply:

'The marriage was performed in the District of Columbia; and neither party to the marriage resides in a jurisdiction that will maintain an action for divorce, provided that it shall be a rebuttable presumption that a jurisdiction will not maintain an action for divorce if the jurisdiction does not recognize the marriage.'

Brian Moore, an aide to Mendelson, said the full council is expected to vote on the bill in early 2012. Moore said no one at the December 8 hearing on the bill spoke in opposition to it.

Under D.C.'s current marriage law, same-sex couples who are city residents have the same rights to a divorce as opposite-sex couples.

But if a same-sex couple married in D.C. no longer resides there, one or both parties to the marriage would have to become a city resident for six months before the city would grant the couple a divorce.

Because all states recognize opposite-sex marriages, a male-female couple could get divorced anywhere, regardless of where they were married.

'The legislation addresses a problem with uneven laws across the country regarding marriage rights,' Gay activist Bob Summersgill said in his testimony at the December 8 hearing.

'Only a handful of states are up to the District's standard of human rights. In states with laws promoting anti-Gay discrimination, divorce of legally married same-sex couples is not an option.'

'In order to maintain basic dignity for couples married in the District, and unable to divorce in their home state, this bill is necessary,' Summersgill continued.

'If we offer civil marriage, we must offer civil divorce.'

Rick Rosendall, vice president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, told Mendelson at the hearing that GLAA endorses the legislation.

'This bill fills a gap in the law created by our being ahead of the historical curve,' Rosendall said in his testimony. 'None of us celebrates the dissolution of a marriage, but equality under the law must extend to every contingency. The lack of a clear legal mechanism for divorce can make an unhappy situation much worse for all involved.'

Eight of the Council's 13 members signed on to Mendelson's bill as co-sponsors, including Gay council members David Catania and Jim Graham.

The two council members who voted against the city's same-sex marriage law at the time the council passed it in 2009 - Yvette Alexander and Marion Barry - did not sign on as co-sponsors to Mendelson's divorce bill.

Both are up for re-election in 2012.

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A monumental year for LGBT equality

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