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Mississippi

Judge refuses to grant gay couple’s divorce, says marriage isn’t recognized

Monday, December 2, 2013
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JACKSON, Miss. — A Mississippi judge on Monday refused to grant a divorce to a lesbian couple who got married in California, saying the marriage wasn’t recognized under state law, according to the woman who filed and her lawyer.

Lauren Beth Czekala-Chatham, who filed for the divorce in September in north Mississippi’s DeSoto County, said in a telephone interview Monday that the judge seemed sympathetic and that she plans to appeal the ruling.

DivorceCzekala-Chatham, a 51-year-old credit analyst and mother of two teenage sons from an earlier straight marriage, said she was “a little bit disappointed.”

“I would have liked to have had the divorce, but either way he ruled, it was going to be appealed,” she said.

Democrat Attorney General Jim Hood’s office had argued that Mississippi can’t grant a divorce in a marriage it doesn’t recognize. Hood’s office said in a motion to intervene on Nov. 15 that Mississippi “has no obligation to give effe ct to California laws that are contrary to Mississippi’s expressly stated public policy.”

Czekala-Chatham’s lawyer, Wesley Hisaw, said Desoto County Chancery Judge Mitchell Lundy said he felt that “his hands were tied” by Mississippi law.

Mississippi lawmakers amended state law in 1997 to say any same-sex marriage “is prohibited and null and void from the beginning. Any marriage between persons of the same gender that is valid in another jurisdiction does not constitute a legal or valid marriage in Mississippi.”

In 2004, 86 percent of Mississippi voters approved an amendment placing a ban on same-sex marriage in the state constitution.

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Czekala-Chatham and Dana Ann Melancon traveled to San Francisco to get married in 2008. They bought a house together in Mississippi the following year, but their relationship soured.

They could get a divorce in California, but Czekala-Chatham says she shouldn’t be treated differently than straight couples. And His aw argued that Mississippi wouldn’t recognize the divorce from California, which could leave their marital property in limbo.

In his written arguments for a divorce, Hisaw cited a recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that struck down parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act and ordered the U.S. government to recognize legal same-sex marriages. That has created a situation where same-sex couples “are married lawfully under the laws of the United States, but not under Mississippi law,” Hisaw contends.

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