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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 6 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 49
Mississippi judge turns down Lesbian divorce
Section One
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Mississippi judge turns down Lesbian divorce

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

A Mississippi judge turned down a same-sex divorce request on December 2, ruling that the marriage of a Lesbian couple who filed for divorce was not recognized under state law.

Lauren Beth Czekala-Chatham and Dana Ann Melancon were married in San Francisco in 2008, during the brief window before Prop 8 outlawed such marriages. (Same-sex marriage in California was reinstated earlier this year.)

They bought a house together in Mississippi the following year, but their relationship soured and Czekala-Chatham filed for divorce in September.

But Mississippi lawmakers amended state law in 1997 to say any same-sex marriage 'is prohibited and null and void from the beginning. Any marriage between persons of the same gender that is valid in another jurisdiction does not constitute a legal or valid marriage in Mississippi.'

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, a Democrat, argued that his state cannot grant a divorce in a marriage it refuses to recognize.

In a November 15 court filing, Hood's office said that Mississippi 'has no obligation to give effect to California laws that are contrary to Mississippi's expressly stated public policy.'

Czekala-Chatham's lawyer, Wesley Hisaw, said Desoto County Chancery Judge Mitchell Lundy said he felt that 'his hands were tied' by Mississippi law.

The couple could get a divorce in California, but Czekala-Chatham says she shouldn't be treated differently than straight couples. And Hisaw argued that Mississippi wouldn't recognize the divorce from California, which could leave their marital property in limbo.

In his written arguments for a divorce, Hisaw cited the June ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court striking down DOMA. That has created a situation where same-sex couples 'are married lawfully under the laws of the United States, but not under Mississippi law,' he said.

Czekala-Chatham told Associated Press reporters that the judge seemed sympathetic and that she plans to appeal the ruling.

Czekala-Chatham, a 51-year-old credit analyst and mother of two teenage sons from an earlier straight marriage, said she was 'a little bit disappointed.'

'I would have liked to have had the divorce, but either way he ruled, it was going to be appealed,' she said. Same-sex divorce cases have cropped up in some other states with bans on same-sex marriage. On Nov. 5, the Texas Supreme Court heard arguments about whether their state can grant divorces to Gay and Lesbian couples married elsewhere.

The plaintiffs are couples from Austin and Dallas who married in Massachusetts and later filed for divorce in Texas. The Austin couple was granted a divorce, but Attorney General Greg Abbott intervened in the Dallas case and won an appeals court decision blocking a divorce.

In the oral arguments, Assistant Attorney General James Blacklock argued there's no way for Texas to grant a divorce because of the state's constitutional ban.

'There's no marriage here,' he said. 'So there can be no divorce.'

A similar case has just commenced in Kentucky, where two women married in Massachusetts are seeking a divorce.

At least one same-sex couple has been able to get a divorce in a state that doesn't officially recognize same-sex unions. In 2011, the Wyoming Supreme Court ruled that two women married in Canada could get a divorce in the state, reversing a ruling by a district judge.

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