Indiana court: Couple may divorce because marriage remained valid despite gender change

By Travis Gettys
Friday, January 3, 2014 9:48 EDT
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Closeup of hands of bridal couple with wedding rings Shutterstock
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An appeals court in Indiana overturned a circuit court ruling that invalidated a transgender couple’s marriage.

David Summers and Angela Davis were married in Brown County in 1999, and afterward Summers underwent a gender transition and legally became Melanie Davis in 2008.

But the couple filed for divorce four years later in Monroe County.

A circuit court judge there ruled that she could not dissolve the couple’s marriage because it had become void when Summers changed his gender due to Indiana’s law prohibiting same-sex marriage.

Steve Sanders, an Indiana University law professor who represented Melanie Davis, said the judge’s ruling was based on a misunderstanding of the marriage statute.

He said both parties in the divorce agreed – and so did the appeals court.

“A marriage between a man and woman that was valid when it was entered into does not automatically become void when one of the parties has his or her birth certificate amended to indicate a change of gender,” the appellate court ruled last month. “The statute prohibiting same-sex marriage does not apply to the particular set of circumstances in this case because the parties did not enter into a same-sex marriage in Indiana or into a same-sex marriage that was solemnized in another state.”

The ruling should offer some assurance to other couples that their legal marriages won’t become void in states that prohibit same-sex marriage if one of them undergoes gender reassignment.

“Around the country there are probably more couples in this situation than many people realize.” Sanders said. “That is a couple who was male and female at the time being married and then one of them transitioned genders, and many of them wished to stay married.”

The attorney said the Indiana appellate court decision was the first documented case involving gender change within a legal marriage.

[Image: Closeup of hands of bridal couple with wedding rings via Shutterstock]

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