By Kathryn Martini, PQ Monthly
My dissolution of domestic partnership was finalized by the state of Oregon, and I’ve now officially been married and divorced three times. Two of those divorces were in Oregon — one to my former husband and now to my former wife. It seems odd to me to refer to her that way — I still feel very married, but the signed judgment says otherwise, and what that piece of paper states is more tangible than what I may feel in my heart.
Throughout the six months between my wife leaving me and our tryst at the courthouse, people constantly asked me, “So were you really married?,” or “How does that work with the court, since you’re gay?,” or “You don’t need to actually get divorced, do you?” Those questions and people’s general mind-set showed me that even though our registered domestic partnership (RDP) was technically treated the same as a marriage under the law, there is still a huge disconnect in social attitudes towards same-sex and opposite-sex relationships.
Yes. We needed an actual divorce, just like regular people. We divided our property and assets, decided who would stay in the house and who would move out, and sell our home; we went to mediation over spousal support, insurance, and retirement accounts; and a real lawyer had to draw actual paperwork to file in a genuine court to be signed by a legitimate judge—just like “normal” couples! Although I never felt that others saw my same-sex relationship as different when we were together—it was like our RDP wasn’t equal to marriage—and I suppose that’s because it wasn’t.
Cher and I registered on Feb. 15, 2008. We drove to Hillsboro, filled out some paperwork, paid a fee, and walked out legally committed to one another under Oregon law. Being a veteran married person, what that actually meant wasn’t lost on me, but in many ways it was on her. Before Oregon’s RDP law, same-sex couples who broke up went their separate ways and found ways to cope with their emotional loss, but legally, unless there were children or they held joint property, had little to no obligation to one another. My wife never seemed to accept some of those legal nuances — especially surrounding items we purchased with “her” money, because under the law, those items and her money were actually our items and our money. It was a bitter pill to swallow when it came down to our break-up. Although I certainly can’t speculate on what she thought would happen when we divorced, I don’t think she imagined the actual price tag of leaving our relationship, and I’m not speaking of the emotional cost.
Oregon is an equitable division of property state and the law treats marriage and RDP’s the same when it comes to making those divisions. Being well-versed with divorces, it was never my intention or desire to have an acrimonious outcome and we agreed to a settlement that we both found fair. Other couples don’t and won’t have it as easy.
Our community has been celebrating the recent Supreme Court rulings and the prospect that Oregonians will soon join other states in recognizing all caring and committed couples under one term: marriage. As we march towards full marriage equality, there are considerations that people need to thoughtfully address, mainly an understanding of what those legal and moral obligations are to one another, and whether or not they are willing to enter into that bond. Gaining the ability to marry one’s partner is about much more than having a wedding or being able to say, “We are married.” Marriage should be viewed as a long-term contract that is not entered into lightly, but partners should also understand what they would very well be giving up as well as gaining.
Marriage equality also means divorce equality, and as pretty as marriage seems to be, it comes with the equal and opposite possible outcome: divorce. More than half of all first, 65 percent of second, and 75 percent of all third marriages fail; considering the statistics, it’s amazing that we as a society still place consequential importance on the idea — so much so that we are creating laws to expand it as an inclusive institution.
Despite the reality that the person or people we fall in love with, build a life with, and have a family with will probably hurt, disappoint, or even devastate us, we still enter marriages willingly, with affection, devotion, and hope for the future. We put our trust, emotional and physical safety, and faith in something that has very little chance of success — all for the sake of love, companionship, and the refuge that marriage offers.
I hope that in the future other divorcing same-sex couples don’t have to justify or defend their relationship as equal to opposite-sex couples, in regard to the legal obligations involved. The benefit of the laws that we are working on equating is that same-sex couples are offered the same protections during their marriages and divorces; both are important and necessary. Unfortunately, we can’t have one without the other.
Kathryn Martini is a freelance writer and a MFA candidate in creative nonfiction at Portland State University. She can be reached through kathrynmartini.com.