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Married same-sex couple files lawsuit in Alabama state court seeking to divorce

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Alabama state sealA new lawsuit filed in state court in Alabama would require the state to recognize same-sex marriages for purposes of divorce. Shrie Michelle Richmond and Kirsten Allysse Richmond got married in Iowa in 2012, but later filed for divorce in Alabama, where the couple lives.

The divorce is not being fought by either member of the former couple, but residency requirements in other states, and Alabama’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, make the situation more complicated:

Shrie Richmond’s attorney Patrick Hill said the problem for the couple is that most states have a residency requirement in order to grant a divorce. For example, the couple would have to leave Alabama and establish residency in Iowa for one year to be granted a divorce there.

“When she first came to me, to ask what options were, she had no idea,” Hill said. “She didn’t know she could not just go down to the courthouse and file for a divorce and she had no idea about Iowa’s residency requirement.

“We’ve explored options on this case for almost a year before filing.”

Alabama passed the “Alabama Marriage Protection Act” in 1998 which pointedly rejects same-sex marriage. The law says “marriage is inherently a unique relationship between a man and a woman.”

It goes on to say the state “shall not recognize as valid any marriage of parties of the same sex that occurred or was alleged to have occurred as a result of the law of any jurisdiction regardless of whether a marriage license was issued.”

The divorce petition filed by the Richmonds says they are bona fide residents of Madison and Morgan counties for six months – Alabama has a six-month residency requirement for divorce. The filing contends the women have become incompatible and there is no chance of reconciliation.

The state also faces a federal lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The SPLC is representing Paul Hard, whose husband died, leading to a wrongful death lawsuit. The couple isn’t recognized as married in the state, meaning that Hard is not entitled to proceeds from the wrongful death lawsuit, or any spousal benefits. The federal lawsuit raises issues under the United States Constitution.


  • 1. Michael Grabow  |  March 11, 2014 at 9:17 am

    "or was alleged to have occurred"


  • 2. Eric  |  March 11, 2014 at 9:43 am

    And the anti-gay wonder why we are unwilling to negotiate the terms of their surrender.

  • 3. KarlS  |  March 11, 2014 at 10:03 am

    I don't think this is helpful right now…

  • 4. Ann_S  |  March 11, 2014 at 10:14 am

    I don't agree. Part of the protection the institution of marriage gives to couples is the ability to dissolve the union in a manner that is fair to both parties. I think that Alabama seems even more heartless for refusing to grant a divorce than it seems for refusing to marry a couple.

  • 5. bayareajohn  |  March 11, 2014 at 10:19 am

    This all reinforces the urgency of ending the patchwork approach to this fundamental right. It works injustice and hardship in so many ways.

  • 6. KarlS  |  March 11, 2014 at 10:57 am

    I certainly agree with that, but I'm a little nervous about the timing. A delay to a divorce is hardly the same sort of imposition as to a wedding, after all. They can always just stay from each other while it's in the works…assuming that's what they want. Sorry if I offended anyone, do I really deserve those negative votes…just for being skeptical? Sheesh.

  • 7. bayareajohn  |  March 11, 2014 at 11:28 am

    Do not take votes as offense or reward, only as some indication of the wind direction.

  • 8. KarlS  |  March 11, 2014 at 12:30 pm

    Well, the wind has a noticeable odor…

  • 9. Tim  |  March 11, 2014 at 2:23 pm

    Why be "nervous"? How often does the other side say they're "nervous" or "worried"?

    Secondly, lawsuits could be filed in all 100 states (if we had that many), and the gay side wouldn't be "overplaying their hand". None of this is really news any more. At this point, there are no lines to cross labeled "too many lawsuits".

    The majority gets that gay people just wants to be functional like everyone else which includes the ability to divorce.

  • 10. KarlS  |  March 11, 2014 at 10:51 am

    I think of Alabama the same as you do but I will guarantee you some antigay factions will spin this to "See, the gays can't make a commitment or stay together!!!" And yes, I fully get the fallacy but logic doesn't resonate with those who have already put us all on their shitlists. I just think the timing leaves the door open for those kinds of vitriol. If Alabama were to permit the divorce, they would implicitly be recognizing the marriage which is precisely what they want to avoid. It might end up a Pyrrhic victory.

  • 11. Tim  |  March 11, 2014 at 2:30 pm

    Whoopie. If that's said, a smart person will come up with a response. Besides, I don' think many are listening to them any more.

    What's happening right now is what it feels like to be on the majority side of an issue while laws are changing to support it. It's a foreign positive experience for gays, but, in time, they'll get used to it.

  • 12. Eric  |  March 11, 2014 at 10:47 am

    Of course it is helpful, how else will this couple attain a divorce?

  • 13. KarlS  |  March 11, 2014 at 11:00 am

    Fast trip to one of the states with no waiting period. It isn't rocket science.

  • 14. Ann_S  |  March 11, 2014 at 11:09 am

    Suppose that spousal support payments or visitation rights are involved – they will need those to be enforced in Alabama, even if they get divorced in another state. Will Alabama refuse, on the grounds that they were never married, and therefore there cannot be spousal support payments?

    And "just stay away from each other" is not a sufficient answer. Suppose one of them wants to get married again? This needs to be finalized so that they can get on with their lives.

  • 15. KarlS  |  March 11, 2014 at 12:29 pm

    I don't understand how spousal support payments would be relevant after a divorce…or why they would be worried about visitation rights. And yeah, that would REALLY gyrate the hormones of the bigots…"See, that (&^&(* couldn't wait to get remarried". I hope you see what I am driving at…I work hard to secure equal marriage rights, but not every win of a minor battle helps to win the war.

  • 16. Ann_S  |  March 11, 2014 at 12:45 pm

    Spousal support was formerly known as alimony. There can be very good reasons why spousal support should be paid after a divorce. If I were to get divorced in Las Vegas, say, I need my home state to enforce the rights granted me in the divorce — such as the right to spousal support payments, or to my portion of the marital property, or to visit the children. Spousal support payments and visitation rights are ONLY relevant after a divorce.

    It is unfortunately sometimes the hard cases where things DIDN'T work out, and the courts have to make decisions about divorces, child custody, child visitation, and the like, where important advances in protecting people's rights are made.

  • 17. Mike in Baltimore  |  March 11, 2014 at 5:01 pm

    "hard cases"

    A prime example might be the SCOTUS decision in Miranda v. Arizona. Miranda was (in my opinion) a scum bag, but the decision of SCOTUS was and is that ANY person who is arrested ('decent' or not) has certain rights, including access to an attorney, before and during any police questioning, unless the detained individual clearly and unambiguously waives those rights AND clearly and unambiguously is capable of making such decision.

    Even though the decision came down in 1966, the ruling is still in effect. The phrase 'Mirandizing the subject' ("You have the right to an attorney … ") is a direct result of that ruling.

    I'm wondering who would be willing to give up 'Mirandizing the subject' based on whether the subject is a 'decent' person or scumbag.

    And who would determine if a person is 'decent' or not?

  • 18. W. Kevin Vicklund  |  March 11, 2014 at 5:19 pm

    Full Faith and Credit Clause alleviates some of those concerns – it's already played out in court that court orders are valid in other jurisdictions, such as visitation and spousal support. But that at best only covers some of the concerns.

  • 19. Eric  |  March 11, 2014 at 5:32 pm

    Not exactly, section 2 of DOMA has not been ruled unconstitutional and an anti-gay state will certainly use it to ignore an out of state divorce decree.

  • 20. W. Kevin Vicklund  |  March 11, 2014 at 5:45 pm

    It's been tried, but the courts struck down the attempts. But as I tried to indicate, this is a very limited protection. Visitation, certain aspects of spousal support, etc.

    -edit-But they'll certainly keep trying.

  • 21. Mike in Baltimore  |  March 11, 2014 at 6:54 pm

    ". . . the courts struck down the attempts."

    Which courts have struck down Section 2 of DOMA, and there is no hold on those cases? Has SCOTUS ruled that Section 2 of DOMA is void?

    Section 3 has been sent to the winds (by SCOTUS), but SCOTUS has NOT yet handed down any decision on Section 2, and Congress has not repealed it. Therefore, it is still in effect.

  • 22. W. Kevin Vicklund  |  March 11, 2014 at 7:21 pm

    Never said that DOMA section 2 was struck down. The courts ruled that it didn't apply in the cases at hand, such as visitation. Off the top of my head*, one where one of the mothers moved to Virginia from Vermont and tried to prevent the other mother from having visitation rights. Court ruled in favor of the original custody decision.

    *implies that memory may be faulty on the details

    Edit –

    It was a civil union, not a marriage, but the same principles apply

  • 23. Mike in Baltimore  |  March 11, 2014 at 7:30 pm

    "It's been tried" is the first words of a DIRECT response to Eric's "Not exactly, section 2 of DOMA has not been ruled unconstitutional and an anti-gay state will certainly use it to ignore an out of state divorce decree."

    Or are you attempting to tell us that Alabama is in support of ME, and will recognize out of state marriages?

    In other words, please try to be more specific of what you mean if what you posted is not what you meant.

  • 24. W. Kevin Vicklund  |  March 11, 2014 at 7:42 pm

    I said the attempts were struck down, not the law was struck down. What I posted is what I meant. You simply ASSumed I meant something other than what I typed. Note that I since clarified that not all attempts in all situations were struck down – that would have been a legitimate compliant. Again, very limited.

  • 25. Steve  |  March 12, 2014 at 8:50 am

    States still have to follow court decisions from other states, no matter what Section 2 says.

  • 26. W. Kevin Vicklund  |  March 11, 2014 at 7:33 pm

    Should also note that DOMA section 2 has successfully been used in other divorce actions. The protections I was talking about are quite limited at the moment.

  • 27. Eric  |  March 11, 2014 at 1:41 pm

    No states waive the residency requirements for dissolving Iowa marriages. They would physically have to move to another state, and obtain residency first.

  • 28. KarlS  |  March 11, 2014 at 1:50 pm

    I know that Nevada will allow the establishment of residency in 6 weeks and they don't care where the parties were married. It seems like a simple solution for someone who really sincerely wants to divorce especially when it isn't contested.
    Look, you know as well as I do that this situation is basically an attempt to poke Alabama in the eye with a stick…which is a good idea in any case but I think it makes more sense to get the right to MARRY before raising hell about divorce.
    I do not see any upside to the conflict at this time.

  • 29. KarlS  |  March 11, 2014 at 1:50 pm


  • 30. Ann_S  |  March 11, 2014 at 2:27 pm

    You are continuing to ignore the fact that even if they were to divorce in Nevada, either or both of them may need to involve the Alabama courts in enforcing the divorce decree. Moving to Nevada for six weeks can be a significant burden. And then they still have the problem of getting the Alabama courts to recognize their divorce.

    While it is true that a couple has to marry before they can divorce, it does not follow that the state must grant the right to marry before we ask them for the right to divorce. Both rights are important. And THIS couple needs the right to divorce – they do not currently need the right to marry.

  • 31. KarlS  |  March 11, 2014 at 5:31 pm

    With friends like you,……………………and you know the rest of that shibboleth.
    Let's just continue to act like assholes, that will ENSURE the world at large will support our agenda, right? jesusfuckingchrist, get real here.

  • 32. davep  |  March 11, 2014 at 5:38 pm

    How on earth is seeking a legally valid divorce proceeding 'acting like an asshole'?

  • 33. Ann_S  |  March 11, 2014 at 5:39 pm

    The plaintiffs are not the ones acting like assholes here.

  • 34. davep  |  March 11, 2014 at 4:10 pm

    Very few jobs will let you just take off for six weeks, even as unpaid leave, so this would very likely result in being unemployed at the end of the process as well as incurring the expenses of paying for lodging in Nevada for six weeks, which is not insignificant.

    I understand that you're anxious about the timing and that it might provide some ammunition for anti-gay rhetoric, and you're certainly entitled to those concerns. But the alternatives you are offering as a way for couples to avoid this scenario are really unreasonable.

  • 35. KarlS  |  March 11, 2014 at 5:41 pm

    Whereas initiating litigation of this magnitude is free? Come on, please don't insult our intelligence. You know perfectly well this is a deliberate attempt to create a controversial issue. I have NO problem with doing that, I just think it's fukking stupid to do it when the tide is in our direction. When you are winning is not the time to give your opponent ammunition. Isn't that obvious?

  • 36. Eric  |  March 11, 2014 at 5:24 pm

    The right to divorce is as fundamental as the right to marry.

  • 37. Mike in Baltimore  |  March 11, 2014 at 5:27 pm

    "Fast trip to one of the states with no waiting period."

    And which state would that be? AND a state that recognizes ME also. Remember, very few states recognize ME from other states if the state also doesn't recognize ME performed inside it's borders. Oregon comes to mind (but the residency requirements are one or both partners must be legal residents of the state, and have been for six months prior), and Oregon is NOT close to Alabama.

    And remember, even if the divorce would go through in another state, there is still the problem of Alabama not recognizing that divorce. A marriage must be recognized prior to a state recognizing a divorce resulting from that marriage. If Alabama doesn't recognize a marriage, it won't grant a divorce.

  • 38. montezuma58  |  March 11, 2014 at 6:12 pm

    Washington is probably the closest. They don't have a minimum length of residency to file for a divorce. But one of the parties needs to establish residency which is not a trivial undertaking. AK and SD are the only other states without minimum length of residency requirements. In general it's relatively easy for anyone to go to another state and get married. That is not the case for divorce, straight or same sex.

  • 39. Mike in Baltimore  |  March 12, 2014 at 7:29 pm

    In almost all states, a bona fide residency requirement asks a person to establish that he/she actually lives at a certain location and usually is demonstrated by the address listed on a driver's license, a voter registration card, a lease, an income tax return, property tax bills, or utilities bills. There might be some alternative means of establishing residency, but such means would follow in the pattern of the above – not easily obtained if permanent residency is not the aim of the person.

    As 'montezuma58' noted, there is no [long-term] residency requirements (meaning of a set number of days, weeks, months, etc.) in three states:
    – Washington, except one or both parties must be a resident on the date of filing for divorce;
    – Alaska, except one or both parties must be a resident of the state on the date of filing for divorce;
    – South Dakota, except the person filing for divorce must be a resident of the state on the date of filing for divorce.

    A motel/hotel receipt would not qualify for residency requirements, only bona fide residency qualifies a person. Establishing bona fide residency is not as easy as saying "I am a resident", even in those states that don't have 'residency' requirements for divorce.

    Travel from Alabama to/from Washington state/Alaska/South Dakota for a divorce would not only involve travel expenses, but also one or both parties establishing residency for at least a few days (if that is possible). Even if the parties had the money, why would they want to travel and one or both establish residency when they already meet that requirement in Alabama?

  • 40. Dr. Z  |  March 11, 2014 at 12:23 pm

    If we had waited for the perfect time, the original 1992 lawsuit in Hawaii would never have been brought. All the "establishment" LGBT organizations were dead-set against it. And yet, that lawsuit filed by ordinary gay couples who wanted their day in court is what set the ME movement going worldwide. We cannot predict ends.

  • 41. Steve  |  March 11, 2014 at 12:36 pm

    It also brought about DOMA, though that would have happened sooner or later anyways

  • 42. Bruno71  |  March 11, 2014 at 12:40 pm

    It was a double-edged sword. If our side had waited 10 years for instance, would the backlash have been more muted? Would the equality movement not have gotten going without it? It's hard to say, but it had to start somewhere.

  • 43. bythesea  |  March 11, 2014 at 3:11 pm

    Honestly… I can imagine various hypothetical scenarios in which we could be further away from equality, but not really many plausible ones that would get us much closer than we are right now time-wise (outside of +/- n months).

  • 44. Zack12  |  March 11, 2014 at 12:56 pm

    There is always a risk of a backlash but I'm of the mindset that at some point, enough is enough.
    Edie Windsor was told to wait as well, and if she had listened to that advice, I know two people right off the bat who would have been deported to other countries right now on account of DOMA.

  • 45. montezuma58  |  March 11, 2014 at 5:25 pm

    This is going through the state courts so it's most likely irrelevant nationally. The courts in AL are more political than other states. The judges will just cite AL's amendment and be done with it. None will risk their next election on the issue.

    Remember the Chief Justice of AL's Supreme Court is Roy Moore. The rest are republicans. Pretty much every campaign ad aired in the state includes a requisite shot of the candidate and his family attending church.

    Well the only positive about this is if it does work it's way through the state courts, there will likely be inflammatory comments from Roy Moore on record to be used against AL in federal court.

  • 46. Steve  |  March 11, 2014 at 5:51 pm

    Roy Moore will just tell them that they should be killed.

  • 47. Mike in Baltimore  |  March 11, 2014 at 7:23 pm

    Roy Moore strikes me as a protogé of SCOTUS's Fat Tony – one who speaks his mind, and without a care what anyone thinks of him or the words now or in the future.

    And if he is a protogé of Fat Tony, his words will come back to bite him in the derriere.

  • 48. Steve  |  March 12, 2014 at 8:53 am

    Roy Moore is simply a fascist and a theocrat. In interviews Fat Tony doesn't hide that he is basing his opinions on Catholic doctrine, but he he is nowhere near as obvious and brazen as Moore about it.

  • 49. montezuma58  |  March 12, 2014 at 10:58 am

    Went about as I expected.

  • 50. sfbob  |  March 12, 2014 at 11:44 am

    It would seem as though their next move ought to be to file a suit in federal court.

  • 51. montezuma58  |  March 14, 2014 at 7:19 pm

    Update on the case. Looks like they'll end up going federal. I'd bet the house on the state courts will get them nowhere.

  • 52. Ragavendran  |  March 14, 2014 at 8:00 pm

    Nice. I guess the state court's dismissal of their divorce petition on the grounds that Alabama doesn't recognize same-sex marriages will be more than enough proof of "injury" for them to challenge the marriage non-recognition of Alabama in federal court.

  • 53. Zack12  |  March 14, 2014 at 8:46 pm

    No point in going through state court. The judges are all elected and the Chief Justice is Roy Moore who is a theocratic bigot who makes no secret of his complete and utter disdain for gays and lesbians.

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