A lesbian couple living in Nebraska is facing another issue stemming from lack of marriage equality: how to obtain a divorce.
According to Pink News, Bonnie and Margie Nichols had been a longtime couple when they married in Iowa in 2009. In 2013, Bonnie Nichols filed for divorce, but a Lancaster County judge said that as Nebraska does not recognize their marriage, it is unable to grant them a divorce.
In 2000, voters in the state approved a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman, and prohibited any other types of legal recognition for same-sex relationships such as civil unions. A challenge to the ban in 2005, Citizens for Equal Protection v. Bruning, won in the US District Court, but in 2006 it was defeated in the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2006. Opponents of the ban declined to seek an appeal through the Supreme Court.
Nichols has fifteen days to decide whether she wants to file an amended complaint, or refile the original.
When she appealed to the Supreme Court, she was informed that because she had filed in regards to a conditional order, instead of a final judgment, the court does not have jurisdiction to issue a ruling.
According to information from the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), “many same-sex couples who are married or in civil unions or registered domestic partnerships may not be able to get divorced. All states have some residency requirement for divorce: with some exceptions…at least one spouse must be a resident of a state that recognizes their union in order to dissolve it.”
The resulting legal issues from such dilemmas vary. Should one member of a separated or estranged couple travel or move to an area that does have marriage equality, until a divorce is granted “they will continue to have the rights and responsibilities of married spouses…if a married but separated couple lives in Ohio and one of them is in an accident while traveling in Iowa, his or her ex-partner may be the only one who is able to make medical decisions for him or her. Second, the spouses or partners will be unable to marry or enter a union with a new partner.”
Ironically, it notes, “in those states that recognize the first union, their second marriage or union will be void and they could even be subject to criminal bigamy charges.”