Saturday, April 19, 2014

Same sex marriage: new clients for the divorce lawyers

I am still watching the process by which same sex marriages will inevitably become the law of the land. In the past couple of weeks the states of Utah and Oklahoma have presented their cases to the same panel of three judges of the Tenth Circuit Court. They will decide whether it is legal to withhold the status of marriage based on the constitutionality of both Utah and Oklahoma’s laws governing marriage. It is my opinion that both states will lose their appeals because they are based on religion, culture and bigotry toward homosexuals, not on law.

Something has struck me as I have watched the process, and especially in my home state of Utah. In December the state, caught flat-footed by a federal judge’s ruling that Utah’s law on marriage was unconstitutional, did not have an appeal in place. Until they could get their act together 1,300 same sex couples were suddenly able to take out marriage licenses and get married. I noticed the age of many of the happy couples. They weren’t teens or twenty-somethings, but older people, some as old as me! (Damn, that is old.) Reading  news reports about some of their personal lives, in many cases they were couples who had been together for many years, even decades. The minute the opportunity presented itself they jumped at the chance to make their partnership legal.

Legal meaning they would have the same benefits I’ve taken for granted in my 45 years of marriage: filing joint tax returns, having clear rights of survivorship, end of life decisions, and those other things well established for generations. Benefits that come with a marriage license and a few words pronounced by a judge over two people.

It also struck me that the basis for discrimination and exclusion for same sex couples to that legal marriage was instigated by religions and churches whose members (those who were lawmakers or government bureaucrats) made sure that same sex couples could not share those benefits. A church is not a lawmaking body except in a spiritual sense. It does not have the authority of government. We are supposed to have a separation of church and state. So why are these folks allowed to force laws upon fellow citizens based on their beliefs?

I believe that the feds, as hated as they are by many groups with agendas formed by prejudice and sanctimony, will have to step in and make sure that those discriminatory laws are overruled. The courts often have to be the final say-so in what is strictly a legal and not emotional or religious issue.

And when that happens then many younger couples will want to be married. And when they are married they will be in the same circumstance as married traditional couples. At some point many of them will file for divorce.

It is not easy to get an accurate accounting of how many divorces there are in America, but from what I’ve been able to gather from some research (okay, I went to the Internet), a ballpark figure would be 40-50% for first time marriages, and for second and third marriages the statistics go up about 10% each time. For instance, if you’re married for a third time, your chances of getting a divorce are around 70%. Those statistics will then affect same sex marriages as well as traditional marriages.

In that way same sex couples, who will be sharing the benefits of legal marriage for the first time, will be also facing the grim realities of divorce. I’d like to see them do better than traditional married couples so in ten years or so they can boast that gay people have more solid marriages than straight people. If not the people who will be reaping the real benefits of same sex marriage will be divorce lawyers. I imagine many of them are rubbing their hands in glee in anticipation of picking up a whole lot of new clients.

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