It’s not a subject that marriage-equality groups tend to trumpet on their websites, but gay couples are at the start of a divorce boom. One reason is obvious: More couples are eligible. According to a report by UCLA’s Williams Institute, nearly 50,000 of the approximately 640,000 gay couples in the U.S. in 2011 were married. (Another 100,000 were in other kinds of legal relationships, such as domestic partnerships.) The marriage rate, in states that allowed it, was quickly rising toward that of heterosexual couples: In Massachusetts as of that year, 68 percent of gay couples were married, compared with 91 percent of heterosexual couples. Another reason for the coming boom is that while first-wave gay marriages have proved more durable than straight ones (according to the Williams Institute, about one percent of gay marriages were dissolving each year, compared with 2 percent for different-sex couples), that’s not expected to last. Most lawyers I spoke to assume that the gap will soon vanish, once the backlog of long-term and presumably more stable gay couples have married, leaving the field to the young and impulsive.
Margaret Klaw is a founding partner of Berner Klaw & Watson, a law firm in Philadelphia, and author of the forthcoming book “Keeping It Civil: The Case of the Pre-Nup and the Porsche & Other True Accounts from the Files of a Family Lawyer.”
When the Supreme Court ruled a key aspect of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional last month, it made a life-changing difference to many married same-sex couples, who will now be entitled to all the federal benefits they were previously denied. But those gay couples whose marriages aren’t working out remain in legal purgatory.
Divorce is solely the province of state law. If a couple who were wed in New York but live in Philadelphia want to be divorced, well, they can’t be. Not only is same-sex marriage prohibited in Pennsylvania — the court’s landmark ruling in United States v. Windsor does nothing to change that — but Pennsylvania’s “mini DOMA,” passed in 1996, provides that such a marriage entered into elsewhere is “void in this Commonwealth.” And if Pennsylvania doesn’t recognize you as being married, its courts have no authority to divorce you.
The data sets are in, and marriage equality isn’t the harbinger of death for “traditional” marriage between men and women, according to a study from the School of Community Health at Portland State University published this week in PLOS ONE.
The study took the number of opposite-sex marriages from all 50 states and the District of Columbia from 1989 to 2009, as a percentage of the adult population in each state (somewhat poetically referred to as “those ‘at risk’ of marriage”), and compared it to opposite-sex marriage rates from the 13 states (and D.C.) where either same-sex marriage or same-sex unions became legal before 2009.
The researchers found that indeed, same-sex unions aren’t bringing down the venerated institution of marriage. The rates of opposite-sex marriage did not differ in states where same-sex marriage or civil union were legalized in the time period analyzed.
What is one fourth grader’s argument for marriage equality? Essentially, “Get over it.”
When the fourth grader’s teacher posted a photo of the essay on Reddit, a social news site where registered users can post content, Wednesday, it quickly took off.
“One of my fourth grade students chose gay marriage as his topic for a persuasive essay,” the teacher, Reddit user rafa3l2, wrote. “This is the result. More sense than some adults.”
The student wrote:
“Why gay people should be able to get married is you can’t stop two adult’s from getting married because there grown and it doesn’t matter if it creeps you out just get over it. And you should be happy for them because it’s a big moment in their life. When I went to my grandparents wedding it was the happies moment.”
“I am not sharing this because of how perfect the sentences are, but because of how clear his thought process is on this specific issue,” the teacher wrote on Reddit. “It isn’t as simple as pointing out mistakes and spelling errors.”
The essay, errors and all, has since been posted on Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, Towleroad, and shared on social media sites, such as Tumblr.
Other recent letters and emails have also hit emotional notes and gone viral.
The right to marry is about a lot more than tax equality. But in dollars and cents, the right to file joint tax returns is nothing compared to what happens when a relationship dissolves. When a married couple splits, there’s no limit on the money or property the two can transfer tax-free between them. See IRS Publication 504, Divorced or Separated Individuals.
Marriages end, and even our Byzantine tax code recognizes that it is unfair to tax either party. Dividing the assets is not a sale for tax purposes. That means no income tax to either party.
What’s more, there’s no gift tax either, unless the spouse receiving assets isn’t a U.S. citizen. Compare this tax-favored divorce to what happens when an unwed couple splits. It’s all taxed.
The Supreme Court may rule on gay marriage this week. Advocates both for and against are glad the issue didn’t reach the court any sooner.
They didn’t want a repeat of the abortion issue. With its landmark decision in Roe v. Wade, the high court stepped in and guaranteed a right to abortion but also triggered a backlash that has lasted for 40 years.
With same-sex marriage, by contrast, legislators and voters in nearly every state had the chance to make their feelings known before the Supreme Court weighs in.
“People forget that durable rights don’t come from courts, they come from consensus and strong support from society,” says Jonathan Rauch, author of Denial, a recent memoir about growing up gay. “We are winning the right to marriage in a bigger, deeper way by winning it in the court of public opinion.”
After losing political battles in a majority of states, gay marriage supporters have won a number of legislative victories and ballot measures in recent years. Sensing momentum is in their favor, it may not be surprising that they’re glad they’ve had time to make their case to the public.
Written by Alan Greenblatt. To read the full article, click here.