December 21, 2011 at 1:02 pm EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
D.C. divorce bill for same-sex couples set for vote in ‘early’ 2012
Phil Mendelson

Councilmember Phil Mendelson introduced the bill expected for a 2012 vote. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

In a little noticed development, D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large) introduced a bill in October that would allow same-sex couples who marry in D.C. but live in states that don’t recognize their marriage to return to the District to get a divorce.

Supporters say the bill, the Civil Marriage Dissolution Equality Amendment Act of 2011, is needed because states that don’t recognize same-sex marriage have no legal mechanism to issue a divorce to gay or lesbian couples who wish to dissolve their D.C. marriage through a divorce.

Under the city’s existing marriage law, which allows same-sex couples to marry, one or both parties to a same-sex marriage performed in D.C. would have to become a city resident for six months before the city would grant the couple a divorce.

Married same-sex couples who are city residents have the same rights to a divorce as opposite-sex married couples under the existing law.


“In order to maintain basic dignity for couples married in the District, and unable to divorce in their home state, this bill is necessary,” said gay activist Bob Summersgill in testimony in support of the bill at a Dec. 8 Council hearing called by Mendelson.

“If we offer civil marriage, we must offer civil divorce,” Summersgill said.

Eight of the Council’s 13 members signed on to Mendelson’s bill as co-sponsors, including gay Council members David Catania (I-At-Large) and Jim Graham (D-Ward 1).


The two Council members who voted against the city’s same-sex marriage law at the time the Council passed it in 2009 — Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7) and Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) — did not sign on as co-sponsors to Mendelson’s divorce bill. Both are up for re-election in 2012.

Mendelson’s bill states that “An action for divorce by persons of the same gender, even if one or neither party to the marriage is a bona fide resident of the District of Columbia… would be eligible for a divorce in the city if the following circumstance apply:

“The marriage was performed in the District of Columbia; and neither party to the marriage resides in a jurisdiction that will maintain an action for divorce, provided that it shall be a rebuttable presumption that a jurisdiction will not maintain an action for divorce if the jurisdiction does not recognize the marriage.”

Brian Moore, an aide to Mendelson, said the full Council is expected to vote on the bill in early 2012. Moore said no one showed up at the Dec. 8 hearing to oppose the bill.

“The legislation addresses a problem with uneven laws across the country regarding marriage rights,” Summersgill said in his testimony. “Only a handful of states are up to the District’s standard of human rights. In states with laws promoting anti-gay discrimination, divorce of legally married same-sex couples is not an option.”

Rick Rosendall, vice president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, told Mendelson at the hearing that GLAA endorses the legislation.

“This bill fills a gap in the law crated by our being ahead of the historical curve,” Rosendall said in his testimony. “None of us celebrates the dissolution of a marriage, but equality under the law must extend to every contingency. The lack of a clear legal mechanism for divorce can make an unhappy situation much worse for all involved.”

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

  • Gee, I wonder if the same fervor will accompany the need to pass this legislation that was the guiding force behind the movement to gain marriage rights? Seems ironic, doesn’t it? We can get married, but, after only a few months, we need to have the right to dissolve. LOLROF

  • Just another step forward in gaining the rights that all Americans have. It would all be so simple if we just repeal DOMA and then the Supreme Court will decide that banning gay marriage is unconstitutional. It all takes time but it will happen. The world is changing and so are people’s views. Marriage has changed over the years as we have seen. At one time people of differing races weren’t allowed to marry. So I applaud Phil Mendelson for introducing this legislation and urge the Council to pass it quickly.

  • laurelboy2, I hate to break it to you, but straight people divorce in fairly large numbers. What we fought for all along was equality–neither more nor less. This is a housekeeping measure. Your mockery is ignorant.

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