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Same-Sex Divorce: Another Reason for Marriage Equality

Gay rights have come a long way, but some couples still face hurdles to equality. Here, one woman’s story.

Mother holding son

The author and her son. — Photo by: Mike Olliver

En español | If you were to ask me 30 years ago, when I first came out as a lesbian, what issue would be most pressing to me, marriage equality would not have made it into my top 10.

See also: For live-ins, breaking up could be worse than divorce.

In the 1980s, the gay community had bigger fish to fry: job security, personal safety, fair housing and AIDS policy, not to mention the politically powerful Moral Majority and its anti-gay agenda. So marriage was something that most of my crowd considered unattainable if not irrelevant.

In the eyes of the law, my marriage never occurred because I live in Virginia, where same-sex unions are illegal. Similarly, my divorce never happened.

But times have changed. Issues that once appeared intractable have gotten measurably better for us — anti-discrimination statutes and friendlier adoption laws are in place in many states, as are domestic partnership, civil union, even marriage — and in comparatively record time.

I’ve changed, too. The issue of marriage equality has become front and center for me. It landed there just as I was going through what I refer to as my big, fat, gay divorce.

For all intents and purposes, I am on my second marriage. My first lasted eight years and resulted in a much-loved child. But in the eyes of the law, my marriage never occurred because I live in Virginia, where same-sex unions are illegal. Similarly, my divorce never happened officially — though personally it certainly did.

I met my ex on a blind date in 1997. Donna (not her real name) and I clicked right away, despite our differences: She was very career-oriented and quite successful at her job as a multimedia producer; I was an editor who worked for nonprofits with social justice missions. Still, we shared a lot of basic values.

After we were together a few years, Donna told me she wanted to buy a house in northern Virginia, not far from her mother and sister. I hadn’t wanted to live in the state because I considered its laws to be openly hostile to gay people. But between the relatively low tax rate and the proximity to family and work, I allowed myself to be persuaded.

Soon afterward, Donna and I decided to adopt a child. We picked a gay-friendly agency in another state that allowed us to disclose to the birth parents that their child would be raised by lesbians. Still, the home study had to be conducted in our home state, and because Virginia prohibits same-sex couples from adopting, one of us would have to be the official parent. Since Donna was a homeowner with the higher income, we thought hers was the better profile and decided she should be the one.

Next: Separating with a child»

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