The state of Florida may see its first same-sex divorce before its first equal marriage.
According to Heather Brassner, her partner Megan Lade disappeared four years ago after cheating on her. Now, Brassner is unable to obtain a dissolution of their civil union, held in Vermont in 2002. Florida cannot grant a divorce in a relationship it is constitutionally banned from recognizing, leaving her stuck in limbo.
However, a circuit judge in Broward could fix that if he rules against Florida’s 2008 ban on marriage equality.
Brassner’s attorney, Nancy Brodzki, told the Miami Herald, “I have known Heather for a few years, through her [current]girlfriend, Jennifer. It was probably about two years ago when she first mentioned trying to get divorced. She wondered if she could. ‘Can I get divorced?’ And the answer was, ‘No, you really can’t.’”
The civil union won’t be ended by the state of Vermont unless both Brassner and Lade sign papers agreeing to it, which Brassner says isn’t an option—she has no idea where to find her former partner. According to her petition for divorce, “In this case, despite diligent search, the Petitioner was unable to locate Megan Lade. Even a private investigator hired to find her was unable to do so.”
Florida’s marriage equality ban was passed by about 62 percent of the state’s voters in 2008. In July 2014, county judges in two separate cases ruled that the ban was unconstitutional and that the plaintiffs in question had the right to marry. Both rulings were stayed pending appeals, already filed by attorney general Pam Bondi.
Brodzki told the Herald that she expects Cohen to rule in her client’s favor, making him the first Florida judge to recognize a legal same-sex relationship from outside the state. She said, “Judge Cohen stated that he was not prepared to grant the divorce without addressing the constitutionality of the same-sex marriage ban—and the same-sex marriage recognition ban. He asked me to file a motion for declaratory judgment so that he could rule on the constitutionality of the ban.”
Because Brassner does not need to be in court when Cohen issues his ruling, he could potentially do so at any time.