The Real Marriage Revolution

by Philip Yabut in

As of this writing, seven states (CT, IA, NH, MA, NY and VT) and the District of Columbia have laws legalizing same-sex marriage.  Gov. Christine Gregoire just signed a bill legalizing it in Washington, which will start recognizing same-sex unions in June, and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley did the same this past week.  Advocates are steadily making inroads, though 29 states prohibit it by constitutional fiat and 12 others through statute, and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), passed in 1996, prohibits the federal government  from recognizing same-sex unions.  Opponents continue to decry it as a threat to the institution of "traditional" marriage. There have been few studies on that subject, and, to be sure, the first state to legalize same-sex marriage (MA) did so only in 2004, but early trends suggest that there have been little or no negative effects on the overall divorce rate.

In 2010, New York made news by becoming the last state to legalize divorce by consent, a.k.a. no-fault or uncontested divorce. Starting with Oklahoma in 1953, each of the other 49 states passed no-fault divorce statutes. Prior to 1953, the only way to get a divorce was showing a court that there were fault grounds to dissolve a marriage, such as abandonment, abuse, adultery or fraud. Absent a real problem (or mutual perjury), it was difficult to end a marriage. But after more states began allowing uncontested divorce in the 1960s, divorce rates started to increase before leveling off by the turn of the century.

One can argue the merits of allowing divorce without fault, whether it be the ease of getting out of unhappy or abusive marriages or curbing institutionalized perjury. The fact remains that divorce rates were widely affected simply by making easier to get one, and that it remains to be seen if the legalization of gay unions will have any effect at all.

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