PA LGBTQ Couples Can Marry Out-of-State; Cannot Divorce

One significant barrier for me with regard to seeking an out-of-state marriage is the simple fact that I would not have access to divorce as long as I remain a Pennsylvania resident.

Gay divorce can be tricky.
Gay divorce can be tricky.

Married in New York? DC? Canada? Living in PA? No divorce possible. That’s outrageous. And its unlikely to change anytime soon.

“Divorce is a very real necessity for all married couples,” Janis said. “Whether it’s because one partner left the other, there’s been domestic violence, fraud, or one partner has become incapacitated, it’s very important that there always be an option to legally end a marriage. If same-sex marriages continue to go unrecognized in the Commonwealth, gay and lesbian couples will not have this important legal option.”

If the current situation stands, which is likely unless the Court makes a sweeping ruling recognizing a right to marry, gay and lesbian couples in Pennsylvania married in other states may have to seek out legal resolution in the state in which they married, Janis said. A couple in Chester County may not be able to hire a West Chester divorce attorney — they would be required to handle all legal matters in another location, and may even have to move there to meet residency requirements. Otherwise, they may be stuck in their marriage.

“The current situation is untenable for same-sex couples in states like Pennsylvania that do not recognize same-sex marriage,” Janis said. “It is wrong for a state to effectively force a couple to remain married because of opposition to their marriage even existing. If the Supreme Court doesn’t move on this, then the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania should.”

When I bring this up to coupled friends, they – like many engaged lovers – scoff and say that divorce isn’t something they hope to need. Great and I hope that, too. But I believe you should think twice before binding yourself legally to someone when you can’t undo it. This is not like having a prenuptial agreement – this is about literally being bound to someone for life regardless of life circumstances. The ONLY option you have is to move to another state where marriage is legal and begin divorce proceedings.

You can’t just walk away and be “unmarried” because 10 states plus DC plus a handful of countries would say “oh no, you are married” and that’s a huge problem.

My advice is that you do your research before taking the plunge. What are the divorce laws/requirements in DC or New York or other states that recognize same-sex marriage? What are the implications for your children, your property, your assets, etc? Your children? Your children?

Heterosexual couples can avail themselves of divorce proceedings if they need them – it is inherent with the right to marry. And that’s an important social tool. Of course, it is unfair that LGBTQ couples have to jump through more hoops and hire lawyers and so forth when they want to focus on the wedding – but that’s part of the reality of focusing on the marriage.


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