Ohio Judge Grants Gay Couple Divorce

by Jason St. Amand

National News Editor

Tuesday March 27, 2012

A gay couple that tied the knot in New York last year received a divorce by a private judge in Columbus, Ohio, last week the Columbus Dispatch reported.

Judge Donald Cox granted Jonathan Baize, 31, and Stephen Wissman, 31, a divorce after a short hearing. The two men married in New York last September but later decided to end their relationship.

In 2008 New York Gov. David Paterson made marriages from other jurisdictions valid about a year and a half before Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed same-sex marriage into law in June 2011.

Ohio does not recognize marriage equality as voters approved an amendment that banned same-sex marriage and civil unions in the state in 2004. Baize and Wissman's divorce is one of the first cases of its kind to be approved by Ohio.

Baize's attorney, Thomas Addesa, told the newspaper that the Ohio Campaign to Protect Marriage, an anti-gay organization, filed a legal brief in the case.The group's lawyer said that the court could not grant the two men a divorce because "by default" it would acknowledge that they were legally married.

"Unfortunately, there are and probably always will be a few rogue judges who are going to ignore the Constitution. For our part, we will continue to urge them to uphold it," David Langdon wrote in an email to the newspaper.

Addesa argued that that the divorce of a gay couple does not "speak to the same-sex marriage prohibition." He added that the constitutional amendment and state law have nothing to do with divorce -- only marriage.

Like gay marriage, there is no federal law that recognizes "gay divorce." Most states that legalized gay marriage treat all divorces the same. But when it comes to states that do not recognize same-sex marriage is when things become tricky.

An incident that mirrors Baize and Wissman's case occurred in February 2011, when an Austin, Texas, judge granted a divorce to two women who were legally married while living in Massachusetts. The state's general attorney, Gregg Abbott, filed a motion to undo the ruling arguing that the judge did not have the proper authority to grant the divorce because Texas has a constitutional ban on gay marriage. The judge, however, ruled that Abbot's motion was not timely, the Associated Press reported.

In 2009 the General Assembly introduced a law that would allow same-sex couples to divorce in Rhode Island. The bill was a response to a 2007 state Supreme Court ruling where the court denied a lesbian couple a divorce because they married in Massachusetts. The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Erin Lynch (D), would allow same-sex couples to divorce in the state even though their marriage would not be recognized.