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Split decision: a Texas judge grants a "gay divorce," giving the first legal recognition to civil unions outside Vermont. (Court).

Divorce is seldom a cause for celebration, but a case in Beaumont, Tex., has turned out to be about much more than a breakup. The divorce, which was granted March 3 by district court judge Tom Mulvaney, is very likely the first legal recognition of civil unions outside Vermont.

Mulvaney's decree dissolved the Vermont civil union between Russell Smith, 26, and John Anthony, 34, which was granted in February 2002. Smith, who filed the petition, said getting the divorce in Texas was strenuous. But getting the union dissolved in Vermont would have required that either he or Anthony live in that state for at least a year.

Smith's case is not the first to test the civil unions law. In 2001 a Georgia woman asked that her union be recognized so she could regain custody of her children. And the following year a Connecticut man asked to have his union dissolved. But courts in both those cases turned down the requests on the grounds that same-sex civil unions were not valid outside of Vermont.

Smith's attorney, Ronnie Cohee, said her legal justification in the Beaumont case relied on the U.S. Constitution's "full faith and credit clause," which requires states to recognize marriages and other contracts from other states. Circumventing that clause was in part the right-wing motivation for the "defense of marriage" acts enacted by the U.S. government and a majority of states, which prohibit recognition of marriages between same-sex couples. Texas, however, is not one of those states. Although state law refers to "husband" and "wife" when talking about marriage, it refers to "parties" when discussing dissolution, Cohee said.

Evan Wolfson, executive director of the New York City-based Freedom to Marry Collaborative, was enthusiastic about the Beaumont case, but he said it's impossible to know how the case could affect the broader campaign for equal marriage rights. "This is a small, positive decision in a developing body of law that the country, the courts, and couples are going to have to get used to as long as the marriage rights of gay people are not recognized," he said. "In a very normal circumstance--a couple's desire to terminate their committed relationship--this Texas court treated a gay family with some degree of respect and common sense."
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Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Geographic Code:1U7TX
Date:Apr 15, 2003
Words:377
Previous Article:Rants & raves.
Next Article:Marriage--who decides? (Court).
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