Equal, Yes, but Not the Same

On the morning of June 26, 2015, LGBT communities around the world waited with apprehensive breath and sweaty palms; the fate of same-sex marriage dangling like the elusive golden carrot before us. When fundamental rights hang in the balance, so do the lives of many. In a very practical sense, whether financially, geographically, or ideologically, LGBT relationships were at the mercy of just nine Supreme Court justices, four of whom would certainly rule against us.


Gay couple holding hands

We all know, now, that the Court’s mighty scales swung towards justice: overturning Baker v. Nelson, the Court’s ruling requires all states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The streets of West Hollywood and LGBT neighborhoods everywhere exploded in celebration under the June night sky; couples who never thought they would see this day held each other just a little closer. Marriage equality. Across the nation.

Of course, it is easy to conflate “legal equality” with “sameness.” “Same-sex relationships are the same,” some people like to say. But, they are not. Same-sex relationships are afforded equal marriage rights, yes, but the circumstances and nuances of the relationships are different. Sometimes our partners are gender non-conforming, having children is not quite as, well, easy as it is for many opposite-sex couples, and many couples face all-out, heartbreaking rejection from their extended families.

“Same-sex relationships are the same,” some people like to say. But, they are not.


Same sex couple arguing

Which brings us to our next topic: same-sex divorce. Of course with the right to marriage comes the need for divorce for some, and just as same-sex relationships present unique issues, so do same-sex divorces.

First, a moment of gratitude. Sure, it might seem odd to be grateful for divorce laws. But you should be. Because before same-sex couples were granted the right to marry, these relationships were afforded very little legal protection. In many ways, divorce laws protect your family: they prevent a lesser-earning partner from becoming destitute, they offer an arena to determine custody of children in their best interest, they offer mechanisms to fairly divide marital property. Prior to being able to avail themselves of these protections, many LGBT people coming out of long term relationships were left destitute after the break up, requiring complex, creative, expensive legal services to protect themselves and their families.

That said, these legal protections, now equally applied to same-sex couples, must be used in specific ways for LGBT families and it is critical to gauge an attorney’s understanding of these nuances regarding issues such as parentage, co-parenting, domestic violence etc., during the initial consultation. This is a new, unfamiliar area for many judges and attorneys alike and a good family law attorney needs to strike the appropriate balance when presenting your case in a refined, precise, and often educational way.

Lastly, due to the newness of same-sex marriage and the realities of family rejection, many LGBT people currently going through a divorce may feel the pinch of a perceived lack of LGBT people to relate to and mutually support during the process. The divorce process is hard enough as it is, and even the toughest clients need a strong support system. The Los Angeles LGBT Center, the world’s largest provider of programs and services for LGBT people, has robust family services, which include a Single Parents Social Club, support groups, workshops and more. Check out http://www.lalgbtcenter.org/family_services for more information.