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Dallas Judge on Historic Gay Divorce Ruling


While gay marriage continues to be a matter of heated debate, the question of gay divorce raises complex legal questions. A Dallas judge speaks out on her ruling that could pave the way to overturning Texas's anti-gay-marriage constitutional amendment.

On October 1, Judge Tena Callahan ruled that a same-sex couple, married in 2006 in Massachusetts but now living in Texas, should have their application for divorce granted by the state of Texas. The former partners could not be granted a divorce in Massachusetts due to that state's residency requirement. Her ruling found that the marriage ban violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. Callahan's ruling made national headlines, but the judge had been silent about her ruling until an October 20 meeting of the Stonewall Democrats of Dallas, the largest North Texas-based LGBT political group.

"I was sitting at my dining room table and I was thinking, I've got to make this decision, I've got to rip this Band-Aid off and I've got to make this decision," Callahan said at that meeting, according to a report in the Dallas Voice. Callahan, a Democrat, holds an elected judgeship, and though she says she was convinced of the constitutional grounds for her ruling, she admitted she was sure to face considerable backlash.

"My dad always used to tell me that a billion people can believe in a bad idea, and it's still a bad idea. And that man taught me to have the courage of my convictions and to do what's right -- it's always the right time to do the right thing," Callahan said, holding up a small,red cloth bag, the kind given to lawyers and judges at legal seminars. "And as I'm sitting there and all this is going through my head, I'm looking at the back of this bag, and I went, Oh, my God, I just got my answer."

"'Let us have faith that right makes might,'" Callahan said, reading the quotation on the back of the bag that helped her gather the courage to make the ruling, "'and in that faith, let us to the end dare to do our duty as we understand it.' -- Abraham Lincoln."

"Because it's still before me, pursuant to the judicial canons and ethics that judges have to follow, I can't talk about the case," Callahan added.

Her ruling, which both supporters and detractors see as a potential first step in overturning the Texas ban on same-sex marriage, is currently being appealed by Texas attorney general Greg Abbott, a Republican. Abbott is arguing that because the state constitution's 2005 amendment prohibits same-sex marriages, it is prohibited from granting divorces.

"I will tell you that since I was in high school and probably even younger, I was around folks who were gay," she said. "I know you guys like I know my brothers, my sisters. You are familiar to me. You have mothers, you have fathers, you have brothers, you have sisters, and you and I, we're just the same.

"And when I got to reading the Constitution of the United States of America, which Texas is still a part of, I was never more sure of just how much you and I are the very same and how important it is that that Constitution protect you, because if it doesn't protect you, then it doesn't protect me, and I want it to protect me," she said.

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