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Wyoming Same-Sex Divorces Approved by Court

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on June 09, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Where there is marriage, there is divorce. 

This is particularly true of Wyoming, where the state Supreme Court ruled earlier this week that, though the state doesn't generally recognize same-sex marriages, state courts still have the jurisdiction to grant a same-sex divorce.

Before you jump for joy or bemoan "activist judges," keep in mind that this is a very narrow decision that in no way impacts the definition of marriage.

Married in Canada in 2008, Paula and Victoria Christiansen filed a divorce petition in a Wyoming court, reports the Billings Gazette. The judge denied the divorce for lack of jurisdiction, relying on a statute that defines a marriage between a man and a woman.

After all, if the state does not recognize a marriage, how can it grant a divorce?

The Wyoming Supreme Court didn't agree, pointing to a statute that makes valid under state law any marriage that is valid in the place in which it was contracted.

The real interest here is how the judges avoided the entire debate about the validity of same-sex marriage, distinguishing it from same-sex divorce. In their decision they wrote:

[R]ecognizing a valid foreign same-sex marriage for the limited purpose of entertaining a divorce proceeding does not lessen the law or policy in Wyoming against allowing the creation of same-sex marriages. A divorce proceeding does not involve recognition of a marriage as an ongoing relationship.

As more states recognize same-sex marriages, more and more courts are going to have to ponder same-sex divorce. This statement really encapsulates the issue at hand:

Is granting a same-sex divorce, which is technically the destruction of a same-sex relationship, contrary to state policy banning same-sex marriage?

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