The other day, a woman who wants a divorce called me. Which initially sounded fine, since that’s what I do. But upon further discussion, it turned out not to be fine. It turned out that I can’t get her divorced, and neither can anyone else. She’s stuck in a marriage that she and her spouse both want to end, with no feasible way out.
Sound like the eighteenth century? Or Saudi Arabia, perhaps? To the contrary, this woman suffers from a thoroughly modern problem. The problem is that her spouse is a wife, not a husband. This woman married her partner in Vermont—picture the quaint inn, the rolling green hills dotted with black-and-white cows, the wedding package so appealing to same-sex couples in that most progressive state of all—and after the wedding, they packed up and drove back home to Philly. Therein lies the problem. Pennsylvania does not recognize their marriage as valid, thanks to our state’s version of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Not only does this law, passed by a group of homophobic legislators in Harrisburg back in 1996, prohibit same-sex marriage here, it also provides that such a marriage entered into in another state is “void in this Commonwealth.” And if Pennsylvania doesn’t recognize you as being married in the first place, its courts have no authority to divorce you.