A gay Dallas man who married his husband in 2006 when they lived in Massachusetts has filed what is believed to be Texasâ€™ first same-sex divorce petition.
The petition, filed Wednesday, Jan. 21 in Dallas County’s 302nd District Court, sets up a legal showdown over whether Texas courts can grant divorces to same-sex couples whoâ€™ve married in other states.
Texas, which has a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union between a man and a woman, doesn’t recognize same-sex mariages from other states. In 2003, the state Attorney Generalâ€™s Office ruled that a same-sex couple from Beaumont couldnâ€™t use a Texas court to dissolve the civil union they obtained in Vermont.
But Dallas attorney Peter Schulte, whoâ€™s representing the man who filed the divorce petition, argued that a marriage is not the same as a civil union. Schulte noted that his client can’t obtain a divorce in Massachusetts or elsewhere because all 50 states have a residency requirement for divorce.
â€œWe can maybe understand that the state [Texas] doesnâ€™t recognize the right for same-sex couples to marry â€” fair enough,â€ Schulte said. â€œBut if other states recognize the right, there has to be a way for those couples to dissolve their relationship under the laws of any state they choose to live in. This is a fundamental rights issue for gay couples in this state. Gay couples should not be restricted on what state they live in.â€
Although the divorce petition is a matter of public record, Schulte asked that his client not be identified by name in this article because he is not out as gay to his employer. Schulte said the man and his husband, who’ve been together for 11 years, are seekingÂ the divorce as a result ofÂ irreconcilable differences.
One gay-rights attorney said he fears the case could undermine LGBT equality by establishing a bad legal precedent. Ken Upton, a senior staff attorney for the South Central Office of Lambda Legal, a national LGBT civil rights group, said the case is likely to be appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, which would undoubtedly interpret the constitutional amendment to mean that the couple cannot obtain a divorce here.
Upton was among legal experts who in 2008 warned same-sex couples from Texas against traveling to California to get married, in part because they wouldn’t be able to obtain divorces.
For more on this story, including my interview with Schulte’s client, see Friday’s Dallas Voice.
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