Same Sex Marriage in Vermont Gone Wrong

The Next Family

By: Heather Somaini

I read an article the other day by Karen Hartman in the New York Times. It chronicles her very unusual situation. You see, back in 2000, Karen and her girlfriend drove from their home in Brooklyn up to Vermont to get hitched under that state’s more favorable same-sex marriage laws.

I have to add a disclaimer here and let you know that my family is from the great state of Vermont. I lived there until I was ten; my grandparents are buried there; my grandmother Pearl worked for the state’s long-standing senator Patrick Leahy; my mother and cousin graduated from the University of Vermont…I love that state. But even I didn’t run off to get married there “just because I could”.

As you know, New York just recently passed a new law to allow same-sex marriage in their state and the first ceremonies will be held this Sunday, July 24th.

The problems began for poor Karen and her nameless lesbian wife four years later when Karen had an affair with a man and decided she wasn’t gay anymore. She wanted a lesbian divorce. Unfortunately, she couldn’t get a lesbian divorce because New York didn’t recognize her marriage in the first place, only Vermont did. They would have to be divorced there but then it got only trickier. Vermont, like almost every other state, has a one-year residency requirement to grant a divorce. In a typical marriage, the state you live in recognizes the other state’s marriages so your residency requirement is a non-issue. But if your state doesn’t recognize your marriage in the first place, that state can’t issue the divorce.

So for seven long years, Karen and the nameless wife stayed in limbo. They sold their house and signed an agreement separating everything in their lives except this pesky little Vermont marriage they had. Karen settled in with her new boyfriend and had a baby. As she writes in the article,It was weird to go to restaurants with a man and feel a quiet avalanche of approval. It was weird to hold hands in public without thinking about it, and soon without even thinking about not thinking about it. It was weird to say, “My boyfriend will be right down” to a cabdriver. It was weird because it wasn’t weird. It wasn’t queer. I wasn’t queer anymore, except on the books in one state.

This is where I get off the pity party train. I actually felt badly for this woman up until here. She made a choice and at some point realized she needed to make a new choice but got stuck in a legal sticking point –I get that. I’m sympathetic to that. What I’m not sympathetic to is a woman who so clearly had an issue with being gay that she ran back to being straight and now wants us to feel sorry for her because she can’t get a divorce and be “normal” and have the “approval” of everyone around her.

I understand that sometimes gay people don’t actually feel proud and despise themselves because of what they think is the world’s disapproval of them. But when I get up every morning, I just feel like me. I’m proud of me. I’m happy with me. If someone isn’t too keen on me, that’s ok. I’m probably not too keen on them either. That happens all the time. But no one gets to tell me that I’m less than because of anything that I am. I have every right to be on this planet and pursue my version of happiness just like every other little creature here. I am more than a woman or gay or a mother or a daughter or a wife. I’m me – unique and special and perfect just like everyone else.

Karen on the other hand, thought it was weird to be gay. She was much happier holding her boyfriend’s hand and not worrying about what other people might say about her. I think that’s totally fine but don’t call the rest of us “weird” because we’re not like you. Don’t tell us we should be embarrassed by our lives like you were when you were one of us.

Karen and her pro bono lawyer eventually got her a divorce in the state of New York and 40 or so days later, she married her 4-year-old child’s father. Good for her. I’m sort of glad she’s one of “them” now. I think it’s only fitting that it took that long to finalize it. I’m sure those six years of being married to a woman but living with the father of her son felt “normal”.

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