Same-sex marriage and divorce have been extremely hot-button issues over the past couple of years. Knowing that they are under scrutiny, judges who have presided over cases involving same-sex marriage and divorce have made careful decisions.
However, in signing off on the divorce of a same-sex couple last month, an Ohio judge said he wasn’t trying to stand up for gay rights or make a political statement. Rather, he later said that he was not aware that the parties petitioning for divorce were both female.
On Nov. 6, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Ohio’s marriage ban, deciding that it would be best to let each state decide for itself how to treat the issue. The matter could next head to the U.S. Supreme Court, but until then, Ohio’s same-sex marriage ban will remain intact.
As a result, the Athens County common pleas judge said he will likely vacate his ruling in the divorce in order to comply with the federal appeals court decision, though he said he will give the parties a hearing.
The case highlights an important issue regarding same-sex couples in the state of Ohio. Since gay marriage is now legal in many other states, same-sex couples have the option to travel elsewhere to be married.
However, once returning to Ohio, their marriages are not recognized by state law, which could preclude the ability to divorce in state courts.
The Athens County common pleas judge pointed out that the issue of whether same-sex couples can divorce in Ohio remains ambiguous, but the recent federal appeals court decision likely means that the divorces cannot be granted.
However, a spokesman for the Ohio Attorney General said that the office does not have a position on same-sex divorces and that Ohio courts should consider the issue on a case-by-case basis, thereby adding ambiguity to the issue.
Ultimately, it seems possible that the Athens County common pleas judge could decide to uphold the decision, though perhaps not likely.
Source: The Columbus Dispatch, “Athens County judge OKs same-sex divorce not realizing both parties were women,” Conor Morris, Dec. 4, 2014