Learn how gay divorce affects the gay marriage debate and read about the first gay divorce cases in Massachusetts and Canada.
1. Gay Divorce in the Gay Marriage Debate
Generally, the only mention of gay divorce in the gay marriage debate has been as a reason to ban gay marriage. Anti gay marriage groups bring up instances of gay divorce to show the instability of gay relationships. However, gay divorce is one more reason that gay couples should be allowed to marry. The need to create a legal status for gay and lesbian couples is due to all the rights and privileges that only come with marriage. One of those rights is the right to access the courts when a couple splits up. Without gay divorce, gay couples don't have access to all the services that the law provides for their heterosexual counterparts. Currently, most gay couples dissolve their committed relationships privately – which is fine when the separation is amicable, but messy break ups can end in gross injustices to both partners. Divorce laws were created to ensure a fair split of all the assets of the union, including allowances for the emotional support a non-working partner gives to the other.
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2. Massachusetts Gay Divorce
Gay couples began seeking gay divorce around seven months after same sex marriages were legalized in Massachusetts. The concept of gay divorce was so unprecedented in the state that couples had to fill out obsolete forms that still read "husband" and "wife." The first gay divorce case in Suffolk County, which includes Boston, was filed a male couple who married five days after same sex marriage was legalized. The couple, a 33-year-old religious educator from Boston and a 39-year-old professor, were based in Washington. The couple cited that their relationship had 'irretrievably broken down' as the reason for divorce, stating that their interests had grown in different directions. The settlement focused on custody of their three cats, who will live exclusively with the professor. As part of the settlement the professor agreed to provide his ex-husband with regular updates on the cats 'in recognition of the emotional hardship of such relinquishment'. Hampshire County reported a divorce filing within two months of the first gay weddings. The state's largest county, Middlesex County, had its first gay divorce three months into the legalization, involving a 38-year-old and a 27-year-old. The older partner cited 'cruel and abusive treatment' as the reason for the break-up.
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3. Gay Break-Up Rates
There are no reliable gay divorce rates worldwide, as not all counties keep track of which divorce filings are from heterosexual and homosexual couples. In Massachusetts, when couples applied for divorce two months after gay marriage was legalized, opponents of gay marriage said the divorces, occurring so soon after the weddings, confirm that gay couples are not suited to marriage. One group stated that the gay men were too 'promiscuous' to make a marriage work.
The national divorce rate in the US is near 50 percent. Gay rights groups argue that mentioning gay divorce is a cheap shot. The gay divorce rate has little to do with gay marriage, as gay divorce is another rights issue.
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4. Canada's First Gay Divorce
Canada's first gay marriage divorce was filed by one of the first gay couples to be married in Ontario. The couple was married a week after same-sex marriage was legalized in Ontario. They had been together for five years but separated five days after their wedding day.
Divorce laws had not been amended by that time to apply to same-sex couples, and still referred to spouses as 'a man and a woman who are married to each other.' The court had to defer the case until the Canadian Supreme Court ruled on the legality of gay marriages nationwide.
A media ban was instituted by the court to prevent publication of further details of the case.
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5. Why Gay Couples Divorce
Many gay couples who married shortly after same sex marriage was legalized in their country waited years for their chance. Such couples might be thought to have a higher than usual level of commitment and stability. Yet gay and lesbian couples were divorcing just months after they married – or less.
Gay couples divorce for many reasons. Gay couples experience strong cultural pressures. Gay couples are also more likely to be two-income families with no children, which in the straight population have a higher risk of divorce. One of the less-thought-of reasons for gay marriage is to ensure that a couple in the process of break-up can access divorce courts.
As gay marriage is a relatively recent phenomenon, the gay divorce rate will not stabilize for a long time. Gay couples can only now access the streamlined legal processes that marriage and divorce provides. A study showed that the gay divorce rate for Dutch lesbian couples was higher than gay male couples, although the reason wasn't clear. Data from Nordic countries, where gay civil unions have been legal for more than a decade, also showed a slightly higher divorce rate for lesbians.
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