The papers have been rife with stories this week about New York’s new law allowing same-sex marriage. It couldn’t have come at a more poignant time – 2 days before Gay Pride day. People have described the mood there as unadulterated joy – one friend even told me, “I haven’t experienced anything like that since the March on Washington” — meaning the 1963 march in which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. It is truly an historic moment.
The New York law, which will take effect on July 24, is a big step in the right direction, but it is still just a step. We still have far to go. Same-sex married couples are still ineligible for federal benefits because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). This clearly discriminatory as the New York Times adroitly explained in an editorial yesterday. The Respect For Marriage Act, which would overturn DOMA, has been introduced in Congress but has not yet passed.
After the expected surge of same-sex marriages, will there be much same-sex divorce? Probably. How will it be different for same-sex couples? For one thing, as John Schwartz pointed out yesterday, if they move out of New York, they might not be able to get divorced.
Clyde Haberman points out that, among other things, same-sex couples will still need 2nd parent adoptions, or else a married same-sex partner is still considered a legal stranger to the child.
Many of the couples who are planning to marry soon have already been together for many years, perhaps raising children. So dividing up their assets and figuring out maintenance (alimony) if they divorce will be more complicated. At least the new NY maintenance law allows judges to consider that as a factor.
As always, the law must catch up with real life. In the meantime, mediation and collaborative process, useful for pre-nuptial agreements and divorce, continue to allow couples to be creative in shaping the law to fit their particular circumstance – gay or straight, kids or no kids, together for 25 years or 25 months.
There will be many things to untangle in the days ahead. Ordinary people will make history, simply by being themselves, by loving whom they love.