Sun, Dec 19, 2004 - Page 9 News List

Gay divorces coming out in Massachusetts

AP , BOSTON

Less than seven months after same-sex couples began tying the knot in Massachusetts, the state is seeing its first gay divorces.

Newlyweds seeking to renounce the vows they so recently took have been trickling into probate courts across the state, filling out obsolete forms that still read "husband" and "wife."

Josh Friedes, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Freedom to Marry Coalition, said the rapid divorces are no cause for concern.

"It would be wonderful if every marriage lasted until a couple lived to a ripe old age, but unfortunately we know from our heterosexual peers that all too often there are irreconcilable differences, and for these couples, divorce is often the most humane option," Friedes said. "Anyone who argues that gay and lesbian couples divorcing is grounds for opposing gay marriage is being incredibly hypocritical."

Exactly how many same-sex couples are seeking divorces is not clear -- nor is it clear whether any gay divorces have become final -- because not all counties keep track of which divorce filings are from gays.

The first gay divorce case in Suffolk County, which includes Boston, was filed Wednesday by a male couple who exchanged vows on May 22, five days after same-sex marriage was legalized.

One partner was a 33-year-old religious educator from Boston, the other a 39-year-old professor based in Washington.

Since then, the couple said in their divorce filing, "our interests have grown in different directions." Each man signed a settlement attesting that the marriage had "irretrievably broken down."

The most difficult part of the settlement appeared to be custody of their three cats, who will live exclusively with the professor.

But "in recognition of the emotional hardship of such relinquishment," the settlement reads, the professor agreed to provide his ex "with periodic updates, photographs, and any health-related information pertaining" to the cats.

Massachusetts began sanctioning gay marriages on May 17, six months after a landmark ruling by the state Supreme Court.

According to the state Registry of Vital Records, at least 4,266 gay marriage certificates have since been issued, although there is a lag time in the records and hundreds more may have wed this year.

Hampshire County reporting a divorce filing within about two months of the first gay weddings.

Middlesex County, which is the state's largest and includes Cambridge, Lowell and other outlying communities, received its first gay divorce case on Dec. 2, involving a 38-year-old woman who works for a cleaning business, and a 27-year-old student. The older woman sought the divorce, citing "cruel and abusive treatment" during the three months of marriage.

Opponents of gay marriage said the divorces, occurring so soon after the weddings, confirm that gay couples are not equipped for marriage.

"We're not surprised," said Kris Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, which is fighting for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. "Particularly among male homosexuals, the promiscuity is just phenomenal."

With the national divorce rate hovering near 50 percent, gay rights advocates dismissed such arguments.

"That's a cheap shot," said gay rights attorney Mary Bonauto, who represented seven gay couples in the landmark Massachusetts lawsuit.

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