READING, Pa. – A Pennsylvania judge has refused to divorce two women married last year inMassachusetts, leaving them in apparent limbo because they do not meet the residency required to divorce in the Bay State.
Berks County Judge Scott Lash said he could not grant a divorce to Carole Ann Kern and Robin Lynn Taney because their marriage is not recognized under Pennsylvania law.
“Relief under the divorce code can only be obtained by parties who are recognized to be married,” Lash wrote in a ruling issued Thursday.
Kern, a Berks County resident, had filed a petition in October seeking to divorce Taney on grounds their marriage was irretrievably broken. The pair had married four months earlier in Brewster, Mass.
Massachusetts law has no residence requirement to marry, but requires couples seeking to divorce to have lived there for a year, a requirement they did not meet.
Gay couples seeking to divorce face a tangle of state laws on the subject.
Like Pennsylvania, Rhode Island bans both same-sex marriage and same-sex divorce.
New York and New Jersey, on the other hand, ban same-sex marriage but grant divorces to such couples. Despite objections from New Jersey’s state attorney general, a judge there approved a same-sex divorce on grounds the state accepts virtually all out-of-state marriages.
In Texas, Attorney General Greg Abbott last month intervened to block a divorce granted by a district judge to two women who had also married in Massachusetts.
“There’s not a consensus,” said Jennifer Pizer, senior counsel and marriage project director forLambda Legal, a national civil rights group for homosexuals, bisexuals and transgender people.
“State laws vary enormously and we’re in a time of legal change and evolution. … But the pace of change is, of course, different in different parts of the country,” she said.
Lash compared the case before him to that an unmarried heterosexual couples who separate after living together and pooling assets.
“(They) cannot, upon their breakup, rely upon the divorce code for disposition of property rights or alimony,” Lash wrote.
Pennsylvania’s Marriage Law includes a section that explicitly states that same-sex marriages performed elsewhere are void in the commonwealth. Kern, in her petition, called the language “discriminatory against homosexuals and patently unfair” and noted how the U.S. Supreme Courtin 1967 struck down long-standing state prohibitions on interracial marriage.
“While before the issue may have been interracial marriage, the time has now come to include gays in our definition of ‘We, the people…'” Kern wrote.
Her attorney, Lisa Gentile of Reading, was out of the office Friday and not available for comment.
However, Pizer called the limbo in which Kern and Taney appear to find themselves a common problem.
“In Massachusetts, couples have entered a legal status and found themselves unable to exit it, as heterosexuals (can),” she said.
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