Editor's Letter: A Right to Divorce

By Matthew Breen

Originally published on Advocate.com November 18 2011 5:00 AM ET

 One of the most remarkable advances in civil rights in 2011 was doubtlessly the passage of marriage equality in New York. We celebrate that, along with many other remarkable high points in news and culture throughout the year. Also in this issue, Andrew Harmon reports on the bizarre end of a lesbian couple’s marriage in a story involving a custody battle, kidnapping, Mennonite missionaries, and a secret compound in Nicaragua.

These stories intersect over marriage, and in the case of the kidnapping, the end of one marriage. In many respects, even more so than marriage, divorce is a fundamental indicator of our society’s stake in our rights. Whereas marriage is caught up in notions of culture, tradition, and religion, divorce, for all its messiness and heartbreak, is a strictly legal matter. (You didn’t see atheists banding together to picket couples marrying at City Hall in New York on July 24, 2011.) But as Harmon’s story demonstrates, we have a disordered patchwork of laws, and being married in Vermont doesn’t necessarily afford one the possibility of divorce in 30 other states.

This is personal for me. I’m divorced. My ex-husband and I were married in 2008. Gay relationships, just like straight ones, often end in separation, and yet it’s surprisingly difficult to admit that after nearly 10 years together and two years married, we parted. Years working in gay media and advocating for LGBT rights (including marching in Prop. 8 protests that started the very day we moved back to Los Angeles) have made me reluctant to make any kind of declaration that my relationship ended. I’m not proud of my divorce, but c’est l’amour. I’m relieved that California made the legal process the same for us as it would have for anyone else.

Equality isn’t always pretty, and that’s a sobering realization. Odd as it may be to say, until we have the right to marry and divorce, we’re being denied equal access to government, to courts, to protection of the law.