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Danielle Kaufman, M.D. Headshot

Same-Sex Divorce: Gays Need Equal Rights Here Too

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The legalization of marriage is a wonderful achievement for the LGBT community. It's about time our relationships were given the same legal standing as straight couples. Of course, straight couples also split up -- around 46 percent of straight marriages end in divorce in this country. While my own anecdotal experience is that gay relationships are very stable, it's inevitable that some gay couples will be unhappy and will want to divorce. As that occurs, gays will need to have access to the same legal support that straight couples have had and will need equal consideration in court.

One of the things that was startling to my wife of 20 years, now an out lesbian, and me, a trans woman, upon our separate entry into the LGBT community is that nothing felt all that different. Gay relationships are the same as straight ones; t's just that both partners are the same gender. In some cases, transgender marriages will be straight, but certainly since gender identity and sexual orientation are unrelated, some of us trans people are also gay and/or lesbian. Again, the relationships are just the same; it's just that the gender of the partners is different, and in the case of trans people, past gender may be incongruent with current gender.

Gay couples divorcing will have the same issues as their straight counterparts with property settlement, for example. And while in many gay couples children are the product of a prior straight relationship and would clearly "belong" to one partner or the other, I personally know two gay couples who have adopted children together. In cases such as these, there will be significant custody issues.

Gay and transgender couples will need the same legal protection that straight couples have.

On Sunday, June 30, I had the chance to be in the big Pride parade in San Francisco. With the recent Supreme Court decision, United States v. Windsor, striking down DOMA, the mood was jubilant and euphoric. This must be what it would have felt like to be at the Berlin wall when it fell.

I work for Kaiser Permanente, and they usually have a large contingent, 675 people this year. About 10 of us got to ride on the float, me as a reward for being in a few TV commercials. The press reported that over a million people came to Pride, and from what I saw, I believe it. Pride is like a major holiday with people greeting each other, "Hi! How are you? Happy Pride!"

We had a presentation ahead of time and were told that San Francisco was now already performing gay and lesbian marriages. Despite the levity, I thought about the inevitable. Some of these happy couples will marry, and then realize that, for whatever reason, it was a mistake. They will need the same legal protection as straight couples. Divorce must be readily available, equitable, and fair. Some issues, such as custody, may be complex, calling for innovative thinking on the part of judges. It's a challenge that I believe can be met. Nevertheless, this represents a huge step forward for gay rights.