Rosie and Kelli Split and Remind Us About the Fight For Gay Divorce

Rosie and Kelli are in the midst of what should be a pretty normal problem. But the legal protections for divorce, like for so many other issues, leave LGBT people out.
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Celebrity gossip is not the first place I go for news, but sometimes the human experience is necessary to help us understand political reality. And what better group of people to watch than those circling the exciting world of Hollywood?

So when the news hit yesterday that Rosie O'Donnell and wife Kelli Carpenter have split, I couldn't help but think about how the fight for gay marriage often ignores the very real rights we haven't got when it comes to gay divorce.

It's one thing to say that a loving committed relationship needs the institutional and social support marriage provides, but when two people split after years together, the law really becomes central to their survival.

If you are a same-sex couple resident in Montana and you take a vacation to Toronto to get married you have a legal piece of paper (though not recognized in your home state) and the affirmation (though not from your own country) of your love and commitment.

But what if you decide, years later, that - like half of the American population - you are no longer in love with each other?

As a resident of Montana, you cannot get a divorce in Toronto. Toronto, like most states with the exception of Nevada and a few others, has a year-long residency requirement for a divorce. In Montana, your relationship was never legally any different from two roommates. And so, you must complete a divorce, with all its entanglements and difficulties, without the assistance of the law.

Things are very different for straight couples.

Family law protects individuals in a lasting relationship from economic exploitation and destitution after a split. When one half of the relationship has not worked, but contributed to the lifestyle of the other half, the law orders spousal support. When one half of the couple has lived in a house owned by the other half for a long period of time, the property is considered a marital home and both individuals may lay claim to it. There are rules about how to deal with the financial burden of children, the shared financial liabilities of the relationship and the shared assets.

Rosie and Kelli are in the midst of a pretty normal problem. It is so normal, entire legal schemes exist to assist with the process of separation. But these legal protections, like so many others, leave LGBT people out.

So, here's to the fight for gay marriage. But let us not also forget the fight for gay divorce. It is when we are at our most vulnerable that we require the protection of law.

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