Same-sex marriage advocates may have scored a victory at the end of April when a Missouri judge granted a divorce to a same-sex couple. The women, who live in Columbia, had married in Massachusetts five years ago. The decision is significant for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that it may be the first of its kind in Missouri. While their union was legal under the laws of Massachusetts, it is not recognized here. The Missouri Defense of Marriage Act stipulates that a marriage must be between a man and a woman.
The judge based the decision on the legal principle of comity as well as on state court decisions in cases involving invalid marriages. The comity argument has been used in other states that do not recognize same-sex marriage, according to a representative of Lambda Legal, a national LGBT legal advocacy organization.
Comity is not one of those things that comes up in everyday conversation. Black’s Law Dictionary (9th ed., 2009) defines it as “the practice among political entities (as nations, states, or courts of different jurisdictions), involving esp. mutual recognition of legislative, executive, and judicial acts.”
The idea is that a resident of Missouri who visits Kansas has the same rights and privileges as a Kansas resident. If the Constitution did not guarantee comity among the states, there would be no union, no united United states — we would be like Europe before the European Union. For example, thanks to comity, a resident of Missouri doesn’t need a passport to visit Kansas.
Where does all this constitutional stuff fit into a divorce case, though? We’ll explain more in our next post.
The Advocate, “Missouri Judge Grants State’s First Same-Sex Divorce,” Daniel Reynolds, May 5, 2014
Columbia Tribune, “Boone County judge grants gay couple a divorce,” Andrew Denney, May 4, 2014