Texas Supreme Court Upholds Same-Sex Divorce as U.S. Awaits National Ruling on Gay Marriage

Supreme CourtA Texas Supreme Court ruling Friday illustrates some of the issues involved with same-sex marriage in the U.S. today that are expected to be addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court by month’s end. The Texas court decision upholds a same-sex divorce granted in the state, even though they do not recognize same-sex marriage, which illustrates the need for national standards that could be a result of the impending U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Angeligue Naylor and Sabina Daly were married in Massachusetts more than 10 years ago and later moved to Texas. The lesbian couple split up and filed for a divorce in their new home state in 2010, even though Texas does not allow same-sex marriages. The divorce was granted in District Court. However, the very next day, the state appealed the divorce decision. The case, which the state argued that the divorce decree would “implicitly recognize” the existence of same-sex marriage in Texas eventually went to the state’s Supreme Court.

The court decision indicated that the divorce was upheld because the state “did not have standing to intervene” with the decree. Justice Jeffrey Brown wrote in his decision that the then-attorney general Greg Abbott (who is now Governor) did not move to intervene until the divorce was granted.

Abbott and his office had “adequate opportunity to intervene” and claim as the state said in its appeal “defend the constitutionality of Texas and federal laws” to only grant divorces to heterosexual couples. But, the attorney general’s office did not take pre-emptive action, and instead waited until the day after the divorce was granted to file a motion against it, rather than speak up ahead of time or in court. As Brown said. “This is not a case in which the state was unaware of the litigation or blindsided by the result.”

Abbott commented today that he believed the decision to be “disappointing and legally incorrect.” He feels that the court allowed the divorce to proceed on a technicality. The Governor did note that the court “did not address the Texas Constitution’s definition of marriage — and marriage in Texas remains an institution between one man and one woman.” That could be challenged, however, in the U.S. Supreme Court.

The U.S. Supreme Court listened to arguments in April on a case they will rule on any day now. The court was listening to arguments about several states that have banned same-sex marriage (Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio as well as Tennessee).

The discussion during the April 27 hearing, the court seemed deeply divided on same–sex marriage. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, however, whose vote is probably the critical swing one, gave mixed signals but has already authored three landmark rulings that supported gay rights.

Those opposed tried to say that allowing same-sex marriage harms the institution drew fire from several justices. As Justice Sonia Sotomayor noted, “How does withholding marriage from one group — same-sex couples — increase the value to the other group?”

The discussion also showed that several justices were skeptical that one purpose of marriage is procreation. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg observed, why are seniors allows to marry?

Other cases like the one in Texas awaits the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, which could go broad enough to establish (or not) a national that goes far enough and upholds the right to same-sex marriage (and divorce). Clearly, the fact that 37 states now allow legal same-sex marriages shows that allowing some states to be outliers will continue to create problems like the Texas situation.

Written and edited by Dyanne Weiss

Sources:
Dallas Morning News: Texas Supreme Court upholds Austin judge’s grant of divorce to two lesbians
New York Times: Gay Marriage Arguments Divide Supreme Court Justices
TIME: Texas Supreme Court Upholds a Same-Sex Divorce

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