Texas Case Underscores Need for Marriage Protections in Times of Divorce

Picture this.  Massachusetts, 2004.

A lesbian couple - Angelique Naylor and Sabina Daly - were married.

My guess is they were happy, very much in love and excited to be getting married in the first state to legalize marriage for gay and lesbian couples.  It being a historic time in Massachusetts - the entire country, for that matter - and with their right to marry hard fought and won, intuition tells me that Angelique and Sabina probably intended to spend the rest of their lives together.

But this would not be the case.

The reality is that divorce is sometimes an unfortunate outcome of marriage - for straight, gay and lesbian couples alike.

Fast forward to February 2010.

Angelique and Sabina are now living apart in their home state of Texas.  A judge in Austin grants their request for a divorce.  One day later, Texas Attorney General Gregg Abbott files a motion to intervene in the case.  He says the judge didn't have the jurisdiction to grant the divorce because Texas has a constitutional ban on marriage for gay and lesbian couples.

Legally wed in 2004, Abbott spends the better part of year trying to prevent Angelique and Sabina from getting divorced in Texas.

On Friday, January 7, 2011, a three-judge panel of the 3rd Texas Court of Appeals in Austin said the state [Texas] was not a party of record in the divorce case and that Abbott did not have standing to appeal.  Abbott's next recourse is to ask the entire Austin appeals court to hear the case there, or he can appeal Friday's ruling to the Texas Supreme Court.

The point of this blog post is not to repeat a point that's already been made: that Friday's ruling does not settle the debate over whether same-sex couples should be allowed to divorce in Texas.  (For more on that, please click here.) The point of this blog post is to underscore that committed gay and lesbian couples need the protections of marriage, as do gay and lesbian couples who wish to go their separate ways.  The latter isn't the focal point of the discourse on marriage equality - and rightfully so - but it's an important point nonetheless.  Jarrett Barrios, GLAAD's president, articulated this last summer in The Boston Globe:

"As our families continue the march towards equality, the gay and lesbian community often doesn’t talk about divorce, even though some of the most important protections associated with marriage are exercised at the end of a relationship — protections that help the more economically vulnerable partner, give a formula for sharing the care of the children, and establish how two people can disentangle a life’s worth of acquisitions, compromises, and dreams."

He wrote with the intent of demonstrating that not only do gay and lesbian couples love, but also our relationships are not immune from pain:

"Just as gay and lesbian couples share the joys of marriage, we will share the pain of divorce, something for which we have no template. Divorce plumbs impossible depths of sadness. It involves separating the dishes and the books and all the other things you acquired back when you both still felt the lightness of love, asserting to a judge at a public trial that, yes, your marriage has broken down irretrievably, and telling your parents whose marriage of 47 years hangs heavy over your anemic explanations to them."

The bottom line here is this: as much as we want our relationships to work, sometimes they just don't.  In the unfortunate circumstance of divorce, the protections of marriage help us to do in divorce what was second nature during the happier days of our relationships: taking care of and being responsible for each other.

This story does what we've been urging the media to do for years, which is to illustrate that all couples have ups and downs and all committed couples need the same protections.