Texas has banned gay marriage and its conservative attorney general is trying to make sure that same-sex couples who tied the knot in other jurisdictions cannot get divorced in the Lone Star state.
An appeals court is currently considering whether the Massachusetts marriage of two Dallas men can be ended in divorce in Texas, which only recognizes marriage between one man and one woman.
Texas attorney general Greg Abbott is fighting to prevent the legal recognition of same-sex divorce, out of concern that doing so would undermine the state’s refusal to recognize same-sex marriages, even those legal in other states.
“Divorce is only available to parties of a valid marriage,” the state’s assistant solicitor general, Jimmy Blacklock, told an appeals court Wednesday. “The parties are not eligible for divorce.”
Blacklock said that the only way to dissolve the union is a “voidance” — a legal way to end an invalid relationship.
But a lawyer for one of the men argued that voidance isn’t an option because the marriage is legally valid, even if it isn’t recognized by the state of Texas.
By forcing same-sex couples to go through a separate system to end their marriages, he said, Texas would be “creating a separate class for them,” attorney Jody Scheske said.
Scheske said his client is an “ordinary” man who simply wants what 50 percent of married couples end up doing: get divorced.
“It’s so important for my client … to have his privacy back, his rights back, (and) to end his marriage and go on with his life,” he said.
A ruling is not expected for weeks or months and the decision will likely be appealed to the Texas Supreme Court.
Same-sex marriage is legal in only five US states, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont, and the US capital Washington.
Ten US states have extended some or all of the legal benefits of marriage to same-sex couples by recognizing civil unions or domestic partnerships, according to the gay rights group Lambda Legal.
Some 29 states, including Texas, have adopted constitutional amendments barring same-sex marriage.
President Barack Obama waded into the gay rights debate Thursday when he ordered hospitals to grant visitation rights to gay and lesbians, including for non-family visitors.
The move sought to end a common practice by hospitals that only allow family members related to the patient by blood or marriage and instead allow visits by anyone chosen by the patient.
He has also extended partial federal benefits to same-sex partners of US government workers but is moving cautiously on his campaign promise to end a law that bars gays from openly serving in the military.