Mississippi is the site of the latest same-sex challenge to laws preventing same-sex persons from getting married and seeking a divorce.
A Mississippi resident, who married her spouse in California, is now seeking that a Mississippi Court divorce them. The couple lived in Mississippi for some time after their marriage and ultimately separated in the Magnolia State. The case is pending in DeSoto County Chancery court and has garnered world-wide attention.
However, it may not be a walk in the park…
MS law specifically provides that a same-sex marriage is VOID. Void means it does not exist, not that it could if everything was just right. Void=nothing. The law goes on to specifically deny that MS has to recognize another state’s same-sex marriage.
MCA 93-1-1, (2) Any marriage between persons of the same gender 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.
Now before you bash MS too much for this, it is quite common that states have different laws regarding requirements for persons to get married in their respective states. Different laws can be allowed. For instance you can marry your niece-in-law in California, but not in Utah. And Utah does not have to recognize the CA marriage. Nothing to do with same gender on that restriction. Also, most states prohibit same-sex marriage, only 14 states allow same-sex marriage, at this time.
There are several issues that are apparent in this MS pending matter.
Issue #1. MS law, which at this time is valid and constitutional by the way, disallows their “marriage” to be recognized as a marriage. And, if no marriage, then there can be no divorce.
Issue #2. The Mississippian sued her spouse on Habitual Cruel and Inhuman Treatment. The parties had been separated for over 3 years by the time of filing which may be an indicator of limited grounds regarding cruelty, which is one of the most difficult grounds to prove. So there may not be a divorce on cruelty anyway, as the plaintiff could not meet her burden of proof.
Issue #3. The Mississippian sued her spouse for Adultery. Adultery, in Mississippi, is defined as “sexual intercourse with a person of the opposite sex, not your spouse.” Despite this being the Bible Belt, it is possible that Mrs. Defendant is in another relationship with another person, of her same sex, and is still not committing “adultery.” Technically speaking, of course.
Issue #4. The Constitution’s Full Faith & Credit clause. FF&C requires that a valid Order from one State be recognized in another. The catch is a Marriage is not an Order, but rather a contractual arrangement between the two spouses and the state that they are being married in. This means a marriage is not entitled to Full Faith and Credit. Interestingly, a divorce would be, assuming the Jurisdictional/residency requirements were met.
So, some legal mumbo-jumbo and a refrain from a little common sense results in…nothing. That is exactly what this litigant will get from Mississippi and will likely get it in abundance. Stay tuned for more developments.
Matthew Thompson is a family law attorney and domestic relations adj. professor at MC Law; Keeping you abreast of the ever-changing world of family law in which we live in.