Tarrant County lesbian couple files for divorce

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A lot has happened this week in Texas regarding same-sex marriage and divorce.

A Tarrant County couple came out as straight friends hoping to help win the marriage equality fight in the state. And a judge prevented Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott from interfering a San Antonio couple’s divorce proceedings.

Now a Tarrant County couple has filed for divorce. Brooke Powell and Cori Jo Long married in New Hampshire four years ago. Powell’s attorney filed a petition to declare the marriage void, like it never happened. But the couple wants a divorce.

Under Texas law, same-sex divorce is illegal just as much as same-sex marriage or recognizing same-sex unions. However, back in February, a U.S. district judge declared Texas marriage law unconstitutional. The Texas Supreme Court heard arguments in two same-sex divorce cases in November. A ruling is expected by summer.

“I feel like since I was legally married, then I should be entitled to a divorce,” Long told Fox 4 News.

Watch Fox 4’s report below.

—  Anna Waugh

Another Texas judge rules state’s marriage law unconstitutional

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Judge Barbara Nellermoe

Another Texas judge ruled that Texas, marriage amendment is unconstitutional.

While the Texas Supreme Court continues to delay ruling on two same-sex divorces, Judge Barbara Nellermoe in San Antonio ruled today that the marriage law is unconstitutional, and she can proceed hearing a couple’s divorce and custody case.

In one of the divorce cases before the Texas Supreme Court, Dallas Judge Teena Callahan ruled the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional and proceeded to grant the divorce. Earlier this year, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year declaring DOMA unconstitutional and ruled the Texas marriage law also unconstitutional.

Today’s ruling in the San Antonio case involves a lesbian couple who married in Washington, D.C. in 2010.

Kristi Lesh became pregnant and gave birth last year, and the couple split up later in the year.

Lesh argues that since she’s the biological mother, she should retain full custody, since Texas doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage. Allison Flood Lesh says a straight couple would generally be granted joint custody or visitation, and she should be awarded the same privilege.

So Kristi believes she had the right to take advantage of marriage when it suited her, but for the purposes of divorce, she’s acting like Greg Abbott, pleading the marriage doesn’t exist.

The judge agreed with Allison and called for a hearing.

—  David Taffet

Lesbian couple files for divorce in Bexar County

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A San Antonio couple has filed to dissolve their 2010 D.C. marriage.

The couple, Allison Leona Flood Lesh and Kristi Lyn Lesh, filed for divorce on Feb. 18 after separating in July. Their case is the first divorce sought by a same-sex couple in Bexar County, according to the San Antonio Express-News.

Eight days after they filed, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia ruled that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage and its refusal to recognize out-of-state marriages is unconstitutional. But Garcia stayed his ruling pending appeal. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott later appealed the ruling to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The case may be put on hold until the Texas Supreme Court decides whether to allow same-sex couples to divorce in Texas. The court heard arguments for same-sex divorce in the state back in November, when lawyers for an Austin couple, who were granted a divorce, and a Dallas couple, who were still trying to obtain one, argued that the state didn’t need to recognize the marriages to dissolve the unions since the state where they were married already recognized their unions as legal.

The court has yet to rule in the cases, but a decision is expected by summer before the court’s recess.

But the San Antonio couple wants the case to move forward because they are also battling for custody of their 13-month-old daughter. Flood, who hasn’t seen the child in six months,  wants to share custody, while Lesh doesn’t because her wife isn’t the girl’s biological or adoptive parent. The Austin couple also has a child, but the case didn’t deal with custody.

“This illustrates what Judge Garcia identified as (what) same-sex couples are deprived of,” Neel Lane, one of the San Antonio lawyers for the gay couples who sued the state over the same-sex marriage ban, told the San Antonio Express-News. “First, they are deprived of the benefits of an orderly dissolution of a marriage. Second, their children are denied the benefit of the many laws to protect their interests in the event of a divorce.”

The couple has a hearing on Thursday.

—  Anna Waugh

This week in marriage equality

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Attorneys in Austin at the Supreme Court after the divorce case was heard

Illinois

Illinois became marriage equality state No. 15 this week.

The Illinois House passed marriage equality on Tuesday. The bill went back to the Senate for a final vote. Gov. Pat Quinn said he would sign it in a ceremony on Nov. 20. Marriage equality begins in Illinois on June 1.

Hawaii

After the Hawaii state Senate voted last week to approve same-sex marriage, the bill moved to the House, which debated the issue all week. Opponents tried to put the issue on the ballot but failed.

The House passed the bill 30–18 and was set for a final vote Friday. Then the bill goes back to the Senate one last vote.

If passed, marriage equality could begin next week. If passed and signed Monday, Hawaii might beat Illinois to actually become equality state No. 15.

Texas

The Texas Supreme Court heard arguments in two divorce cases. The central question is whether Texas can grant a divorce without recognizing the marriage. Georgia takes that approach. If the court rules that the divorces are void, then the state is re-instating rather than ending two same-sex marriages.

—  David Taffet

Marriages to begin Thursday in Minn., R.I.; Colorado grants 1st gay divorce

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Gay Rhode Island state Rep. Frank Ferri will marry Thursday.

In Minnesota and Rhode Island, same-sex couples can begin to marry at midnight tonight. Meanwhile, Colorado granted its first same-sex divorce.

Gov. Mark Dayton signed the Minnesota marriage equality bill into law on May 14. Courthouses in Minneapolis, St. Paul and other large cities will be open at midnight tonight to accommodate couples who want to be among the first to take advantage of the new law.

Minneapolis Mayor Ron Stein plans to marry about 40 couples on the first day of marriage equality.

Betty Crocker, based in Minnesota, is donating wedding cakes for the first day of wedding celebrations.

The Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., the largest shopping mall in the U.S., will host a wedding on Aug. 1 in its Chapel of Love.

Rhode Island already had civil unions and recognized marriages performed elsewhere. When the civil union bill passed, it satisfied no one. Opponents of the bill wanted no relationship recognition and marriage-equality proponents saw no purpose in getting a civil union when all surrounding states offered marriage.

Now, couples may go to city or town clerks to turn their civil unions into marriages. Other couples are expected to marry beginning Thursday morning.

Rhode Island state Rep. Frank Ferri is planning to marry his partner Tony Caparco. They were married in Canada in 2006, but will remarry on Thursday. House Speaker Gordon Fox, who is also gay, will preside, according to the local NBC affiliate.

Also this week, Colorado granted its first same-sex divorce. Earlier this year, the state passed civil unions. Although same-sex couples can’t marry in Colorado, they can now dissolve marriages from other states.

—  David Taffet

Straight ally talks to reporters

David Bowling
David Bowling

Earlier this month, David Bowling was at Kay Bailey Hutchison’s office asking her support for ENDA. This week he was in front of the George Allen Courts Building talking to reporters who were there covering the same-sex divorce case.

Bowling is not gay. He’s a straight ally. He’d get straight married and he’d get straight divorced. But equality is important to him. He thinks his gay and lesbian friends should be able to get lesbian married and gay divorced and other people’s relationships don’t affect him. What does affect him is the attorney general interfering in someone else’s private life.

When asked by one reporter why he was there protesting Attorney General Greg Abbott’s actions in this case, Bowling was very clear.

“It is unconstitutional,” he said.

“They were actually married in Massachusetts so if they do recognize this divorce then they are recognizing gay marriage,” one reporter said.

“Beautiful!” Bowling said.

—  David Taffet

Newsweek on how it ain't easy for gay couples to become ex's in Texas — or anywhere else

Angelique Naylor was recently granted a divorce from her wife in Austin. But she fears Attorney General Greg Abbott will appeal the decision.
Angelique Naylor was recently granted a divorce from her wife in Austin. But she fears Attorney General Greg Abbott will appeal the decision.

Last week I got wind that an unnamed major media outlet was looking for a same-sex couple trying to get a divorce. Coincidentally, when I heard this, I had just gotten off the phone with Jennifer Cochran, the attorney for Angelique Naylor, a woman who was recently granted a divorce from her wife in Austin. I sent Cochran’s e-mail address to my contact, and just like that a week later, we have this article from Newsweek. The article uses the Austin case to illustrate the tremendous difficulties faced by same-sex couples who want to divorce, but the reporter also talked to Pete Schulte, one of the attorneys in a gay divorce case in Dallas. In fact, as the article points out, it was the Dallas case that inspired the Austin couple to seek a divorce after they unsuccessfully sought to settle their affairs through other legal means. And it’s the Dallas case, in which oral arguments are set for April 21 before the 5th District Court of Appeals, that some believe may reach the U.S. Supreme Court:

As for Angelique Naylor, she and her lawyer, Jennifer Cochran, are counting down the days until the 30-day window expires for the Texas attorney general to appeal her divorce. Cochran also worries that a negative decision in the Dallas case could potentially overturn Naylor’s divorce. “These couples are already going through three times the expense and headaches,” she says. More gay couples are likely to move to Texas, she adds, and Austin has become a popular destination for all Americans: “This is an issue that is not going to go away.” Naylor, however, expects the attorney general to intervene. “It’s an election year, and apparently attacking gay people is a good thing to throw resources at. But in my heart and mind I’m divorced, no matter what. I’ve closed that chapter of my life.”

—  John Wright

Another Texas district judge tells AG Greg Abbott to go stick it in a gay divorce case

Can you show me where in the Ten Commandments it says anything about gay divorce?
Can you show me where in the Ten Commandments it says anything about gay divorce?

As you may have heard, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott really likes sticking his nose in other people’s business. Last year Abbott tried to intervene in a same-sex divorce case in Dallas, and Judge Tena Callahan told him to go stick it somewhere else. Abbott, apparently a sore loser, has appealed Callahan’s decision to the 5th District Court of Appeals, which will hear oral arguments in April. In the meantime, an Austin district judge on Wednesday told Abbott essentially the same thing. From The Houston Chronicle:

Abbott’s deputies had argued in court filings that Angelique Naylor, 39, and Sabina Daly, 42, may not be legally granted a divorce because Texas law defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Naylor and Daly were married in 2004 in Massachusetts, where gay marriage is legal. They returned to their home in Austin after their marriage and adopted a son who is now 4.

During a hearing, state District Judge Scott Jenkins questioned Abbott’s decision to pursue the case, noting that his office is involved in same-sex divorce litigation in Dallas that is already on appeal. That case, Jenkins said, is positioned to provide legal precedent on the legality of gay divorce. He suggested that a delayed disposition in the Travis County case could affect Naylor and Daly’s son.

But do you really think Abbott cares about the impact his involvement could have on this 4-year-old boy? How much you wanna bet his office appeals this decision, too?

—  John Wright

'Daily Show' to lampoon gay divorce case

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Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is working on a segment about Texas’ first same-sex divorce case.

The Daily Show‘s Laura Swisher contacted Dallas Voice last month seeking potential sources.

Swisher told me today that a Daily Show crew was in Dallas last week filming for the segment. She said they interviewed the plaintiff in the divorce case, “J.B.,” along with his attorney, Peter Schulte.

The crew then traveled to East Texas to interview right-winger Rick Scarborough, the former Southern Baptist pastor who heads Vision America.

“I think we got good material from everybody, and I think it’s a really interesting case, so it was fun to kind of explore,” Swisher told me. “It’s a great story, just on the face of it, so we’ll have some fun with it.”

She added that the segment likely will air sometime after the New Year.

—  John Wright

Plaintiff in Dallas divorce case: 'This is not about gay and lesbian marriage'

The plaintiff in Texas’ first gay divorce case appeared on “Good Morning America Weekend” on Sunday along with his attorney, Peter Schulte. The plaintiff, who’s asking to be identified only as “J.B.,” again insisted that the divorce isn’t a “test case” designed to further LGBT equality.

GMA host Bill Weir: “Gay marriage advocates are celebrating this as an interesting way to get the whole issue in front of state supreme courts and possibly the U.S. Supreme Court. How much of that motivated you here?”

J.B.: “From the beginning, I have said this is not a test case, I’m not the poster child. In reality, for 10 months, there have been two people on the plane, the pilot and myself in the cabin alone. If anybody else had wanted to bring their cause to the table, they could have been there. Some of the greatest negative feedback that I’ve gotten has been from the gay and lesbian community, the legal community in the gay and lesbian community specifically. So you know what? You can’t just jump on when you want to and claim your stake. … This is not about gay and lesbian marriage.”

—  John Wright