Rep. to introduce first-ever divorce equality bill

Rep. to introduce first-ever divorce equality bill

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A Lehigh County state lawmaker plans to introduce the state’s first piece of legislation to grant same-sex couples the right to divorce in Pennsylvania.

Rep. Mike Schlossberg (D-132nd Dist.) said this week he will introduce a divorce-equality bill within the next few weeks. The measure would allow same-sex couples living in Pennsylvania who are legally married in another state to get divorced or have their marriage annulled.

Pennsylvania law currently defines marriage as being between one man and one woman, which has driven countless couples to other states to legally wed; however, many of those states have residency requirements that mandate couples live in those states for a time period in order to dissolve their marriage.

Schlossberg is circulating a cosponsorship memo and hopes to have 20-25 cosponsors when he introduces the legislation. He said he is aiming to have every member of the LGBT Equality Caucus sign on.

The bill will be sent to either the State Government or Judiciary committees, and Schlossberg said he doubts the legislation will make it onto the House floor.

“The House certainly has not let any LGBT-equality bill hit a full vote and that is certainly unfortunate,” he said. “I just hope it will keep the conversation going.”

Allentown native and resident Robin Townsend is among the Pennsylvania residents being affected by the nation’s patchwork marriage-equality, and subsequent divorce-equality, laws.

Townsend met her former partner in 2006 and they married in Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage is legal, two years later. The pair lived in Pennsylvania during and after their relationship ended in 2010.

But, for the pair to be legally divorced, they would need to live in Massachusetts for one year prior to being allowed to divorce.

“I didn’t know who to turn to,” she said. “I called the Massachusetts courthouse, went there in person. I talked to lawyers in Pennsylvania and no one seemed to be able to help.”

Schlossberg said it was after he read Townsend’s story in The Morning Call that he chose to take action.

“It is not an issue you often think about,” he said. “She and others in her situation cannot get the financial, emotional and legal closure they seek. It is an unfortunate situation.”

Townsend sought assistance from LGBT-rights attorney Tiffany Palmer, who is currently providing legal counsel.

Townsend said there is not much legal information available about same-sex divorce equality, but noted it’s an issue that many people, regardless of their views on same-sex marriage, can undersand.

“Straight people can relate to this subject,” she said. “If you bring up same-sex marriage, they don’t know why you want to do that, but if you bring up divorce, they can understand. Everybody knows somebody who has gone through divorce. We’ve heard of stressful divorces and it’s a great way to start the conversation on all issues of equality.”

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