Council Unanimously Approves Same-Sex Divorce Bill

Measure allows same-sex couples to divorce in the District without establishing residency

Without much fanfare, the City Council unanimously passed a measure Tuesday, March 6, that permits same-sex spouses who were married in the District but reside elsewhere to dissolve their marriages without having to establish residency.

The measure, the Civil Marriage Dissolution Equality Amendment Act of 2011, introduced by Councilmember Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), chair of the Judiciary Committee, amends current District law, which states that one of the parties seeking to dissolve a marriage must have been a bona fide resident of the District for 6 months prior to seeking a divorce.

Typically, marriages are recognized by the state in which a couple resides. However, in the case of same-sex marriages, states that do not marriage equality are not required to recognize marriages performed in other jurisdictions, and, so, may not grant a divorce to a married same-sex couple seeking one.

At a Jan. 10 hearing, Mendelson said that passing the law would ”introduce dignity” to the process of dissolving a marriage. Councilmember Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), a member of the Judiciary Committee, asked whether the act would be applicable to only same-sex couples, or anybody who got married in the District.

When told the measure would only apply to same-sex couples, Barry said he would vote for it.

”As you all know, I dissented on marriage equality itself, but I support this,” Barry said during the hearing. ”What I didn’t want to happen was that Washington, D.C., as is Las Vegas, become the divorce capital of the world.”

The measure went to the council for a preliminary vote Feb. 7, where it passed unanimously. Including Mendelson, eight of the 12 sitting councilmembers signed on as co-sponsors of the bill.

The measure now goes to Mayor Vincent Gray (D), whose office had no comment on whether he would sign it. Gray, however, has been a longtime ally of the LGBT community. If Gray signs it, it will then undergo a congressional review period of 30 days before becoming law.

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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