As a woman married to a woman, I enjoy some of the benefits that marriage can offer. And as a gay rights advocate, it has been a dream of mine to see this kind of equality. But (and I hate that there is a "but," but there is) what about the pitfalls? Along with marriage comes divorce, and while we are feeling jubilant and celebrating our successes, are we also examining the reality that marriages also come apart? I'd like to think that gay and lesbian marriages are different, held together just a little more tightly by an extra dose of fairy dust and pink unicorn karma, but, alas, I don't think that's true.
In the past, with no laws governing our relationships, we have been able to pick and choose how we split up -- sometimes more humanely and with more love than the hetero experience of divorce. No oversight, no rules. Now we will need lawyers and judges to mete out settlements and fairness just like our hetero counterparts. As unromantic as this discussion most certainly is in the face of all the recent victories, I don't think we are talking about this enough. So here are five reasons THAT we in the LGBT community are ready for legal marriage but not for legal divorce. Let's start the conversation.
1. Presumptive Parenthood
In a heterosexual marriage, the husband is presumed to be a parent regardless of whether he literally fathered the child or not. This means that bio-moms can't so easily chuck the ex out of the picture when the marriage ends. This notion of presumed parenthood doesn't apply to non-biological moms in same-sex marriages, or to fathers in gay couples who did not contribute DNA. This means that same-sex divorce has even more potential than hetero divorce to separate children from a parent. Until the law sees fit to protect both parents in a same-sex couple in the case of divorce, we won't truly be ready for marriage.
2. Division of Assets
When a heterosexual marriage ends, all assets are equally divided. It's 50/50 unless there is an alternative agreement sanctioned by a judge. You can't pick up and walk out with your finances intact anymore; rules are rules, and what is good for the goose is, well, good for the other goose too. I'm not talking about just the assets that you feel like dividing or just the ones that you agree to divide but all assets -- cars, furniture, houses, boats, bank accounts, retirement accounts, debt. All joint assets and debts are divided equally. Are you ready for that?
3. Public Record
Marriage/divorce is a matter of public record. Be honest: How many times would you have been "married" by now if you had had access to legal marriage? And getting married and/or divorced seven or eight times is not really socially acceptable, is it? Can our community act responsibly with marriage in a way that doesn't create a public-relations debacle just as we're gaining momentum on the equality train? What if we divorce more often because we are not socialized to the "marriage is forever" message? Don't get me wrong: I want it; I have a solid marriage; I know we are as capable of having lasting and meaningful unions as any group. But let's face it: Long-term, monogamous coupling hasn't been in our water, so to speak, as long as it has in the heterosexual culture of marriage. We just started openly having families. Are we as ready for the public heartbreak of divorce as we are for the celebration of marriage? I don't think so.
4. Joint Taxes
Filing jointly may seem like a benefit, but what if your newly betrothed had huge tax debt that you didn't know about before you got hitched? Coupling your doom is the fact that that sweet little refund that you used to get as single and head of household is now a distant memory. A couple I know is in this very situation, and one spouse suggested to the other that they "wait" to file as a married couple until one paid down the debt. That was funny -- as if you can pick and choose when/whether to tell the IRS you are married. See? Not ready.
5. Marriage Baggage
Marriage is legal anywhere and everywhere you go. Again, in general, this is great news, but what if you are no longer with the same-sex partner you legally married 10 years ago in Canada? Because that old marriage certificate is now recognized where you live, you're going to have to legally divorce her before you can marry the current love of your life.
Fair's fair, right? We want marriage equality, right? If your answers to these questions are both "yes," then buckle in, because with marriage equality comes equal-opportunity divorce. Are you ready? Can we get ready? Hell, yes, but we had better do our homework, as this is likely to be one of those cultural experiences whose reality is different from the bubble-gum fantasy. Get busy.