The same-sex marriage ban in Florida not only fails to recognize marriages licensed in other states, but also denies gay and lesbian residents the ability to legally dissolve unhappy unions.
By John Matias
With around 80,000 marriages ending on an annual basis, divorce is not a rare occurrence in Florida. However, the state’s refusal to acknowledge the validity of gay and lesbian marriages means its courts are selective about which types of couples are permitted to legally separate. Not only does Florida’s same-sex marriage ban deny same-sex couples who want to get hitched, it presents a huge legal obstacle to those who are seeking divorce.
Kathleen Vacca is all too familiar with the legal, financial, and emotional challenges of being denied a divorce. Vacca and her same-sex partner of 17 years married in New Jersey, but their relationship ended 3 years later in 2012. Vacca currently resides in Manatee County, but is not permitted to legally divorce because Florida does not recognize her New Jersey marriage.
Vacca consulted 4 lawyers who confirmed that she would not be able to divorce in Florida. She could, however, attain a divorce is if she uprooted her life, moved back to New Jersey or a state that recognized same-sex marriage, and established a one-year residency. To make matters more complicated, some states, such as Massachusetts, prohibit residency for individuals who have relocated specifically for the purpose of divorce.
In a similar case that recently took place in Hillsborough County, a majority of the appellate judges of the 2nd District Court of Appeal unexpectedly asked that the Florida Supreme Court decide the divorce issue. However, the state’s highest court has not yet responded on whether it will accept the divorce case. If the Florida Supreme Court does settle the same-sex divorce, the implications could be significant for future cases in the state.
For now, the nation remains divided in its treatment of same-sex couples and recognition of gay marriage. Although 19 states permit same-sex marriages, Florida is one of 31 U.S. States that does not recognize gay marriage and continues to deny unhappy same-sex couples the option to divorce.