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Same-Sex Divorce Headed To Courts

by Ron Wood | December 27, 2014 at 1:30 a.m.

Two women who married in May in Washington County, when a flurry of same-sex marriage licenses were issued, appear to be headed for divorce.

Divorce cases are generally resolved in 90 to 120 days, but judges now face the questions of whether those May marriages are legal and if they have jurisdiction to hear the divorces.


Timeline Of Arkansas Gay Marriage Rulings

May 9: Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza overturns state’s gay marriage ban.

May 10: State’s first same-sex licenses issued in Eureka Springs.

May 11: Attorney General Dustin McDaniel announces intent to appeal Piazza’s decision to state Supreme Court.

May 14: Supreme Court declares Piazza’s decision incomplete; Washington and Pulaski counties halt licenses.

May 15: Piazza re-issues his ruling; Pulaski County restarts licenses.

May 16: Arkansas Supreme Court stays Piazza’s ruling.

Nov. 25: U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker rules state’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional. Baker stayed her ruling upon issuing it.

Source: Staff Report

Elizabeth Linh Moore, a Washington County resident, and Abigail Leigh Hill of Tippecanoe County, Ind., were married May 16, according to county records. Moore filed for divorce Dec. 9 in Washington County Circuit Court.

Moore said in her divorce filing the couple had been separated since Nov. 10. The complaint asks Judge Doug Martin to divide the couple's marital property and any debt if they are unable to reach an agreement on those issues. No children are involved.

Ray Niblock, who represents Hill, said the case is in the initial pleading stage and likely has not yet come to Martin's attention, but he doesn't expect the case to be handled any differently than a traditional divorce.

"As far as I know, the ones that did occur are valid," Niblock said. "I know of no authority or court order that has said any marriages that took place during that time frame are null and void. Absent that, I feel the court will treat it with blind eyes like any other divorce."

Circuit Judge Joanna Taylor was recently assigned a same-sex divorce case in which the couple were married in a state where same-sex marriage is legal and are asking for a divorce in Arkansas.

Generally, a person can get a divorce in Arkansas, regardless of whether they were married here, another state or a foreign country, after establishing residency in the state.

Washington County was one of several in Arkansas that began issuing same-sex marriage licenses following a ruling by Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza striking down the state's ban on gay marriage.

After Piazza's May 9 ruling, Washington, Pulaski and three other counties began issuing licenses to dozens of same-sex couples. More than 500 same-sex couples obtained marriage licenses in the state, including 140 in Washington County, before the state Supreme Court stayed Piazza's ruling a week after he issued it.

Piazza's ruling was appealed and counties, including Washington, halted issuing licenses until the issue is decided. Both sides submitted briefs and made oral arguments in the state's appeal of Piazza's ruling, but the state Supreme Court has not yet ruled in that case.

In the interim a federal judge, Kristine Baker, last month found the state's 10-year-old ban unconstitutional. Baker stayed her ruling upon issuing it to allow for appeals.

Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel on Tuesday filed notice his office will appeal Baker's ruling.

McDaniel said he waited to file a notice of appeal with the 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals because he had hoped the Arkansas Supreme Court would rule on the state case. Friday was the deadline to submit a notice of appeal in the federal case.

Attorney General-elect Leslie Rutledge has said she'll work to overturn Baker's ruling.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to take up the issue Jan. 9 in a conference to decide whether to hear any of five same-sex marriage appeals next year. The cases involve same-sex marriage bans in Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee and Louisiana. A decision to take up any of the appeals would likely mean a ruling by mid-year.

The U.S. Supreme Court in October refused to take up the issue. Justices left several federal appeals court rulings intact that said same-sex marriage is a constitutional right. Another federal appeals court has since reached the opposite conclusion.

Justices have let several rulings legalizing gay marriage take effect without addressing the underlying constitutional issue.

NW News on 12/27/2014

Print Headline: Judges Being Asked To Hear Same-Sex Divorces


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