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Adam Sorkin is a Harvard-educated attorney practicing law in Chicago. He's also still married to his college sweetheart, even though the two men went their separate ways almost two years ago.
"We started going out the first day of class my freshman year," he says. When Sorkin got into Harvard Law School, the pair moved to Massachusetts and got married there, in May 2007.
Then Sorkin and his husband moved back to Chicago. But Illinois, like Missouri, doesn't recognize same-sex marriages. In the eyes of the law, his husband was no longer his husband.
That would become a matter of great significance two years later, in March 2009, when they decided to call it quits.
"We had this marriage that was unrecognized in Illinois," he says. "Our marriage was never recognized here, where we both live."
Without a marriage, they couldn't seek a divorce. And without a divorce, the couple had no guidance for splitting the life they'd made together.
"We had a car and a cat and furniture and joint bank accounts and joint credit cards," he says. "We had to do it ourselves. To untangle that...that's why the state gets involved [in divorces]." But, as a same-sex couple, he says, "We didn't have any guidance from the court."
While the couple remains technically married, Sorkin says they attempted an equitable split of their property. "We tried to dissolve things fairly, but two people never have the same notion of what's fair. I've since bought a condo — is he going to go after that? Technically, we're still married!"
It's possible that his spouse could. The condo could count as marital property, since it was technically accrued during the marriage. Should the men be able to someday seek a divorce, Sorkin's spouse might have a claim on the property.
Not to mention the little things. Filling out a form with check-boxes for marital status, for instance, can be an ordeal. And moving on with a social life? "When you're newly single and starting to date, it's awkward: 'I just want you to know I happen to be married in five states.'"
Missouri is a particularly tough state for same-sex couples. In 2004, 70 percent of voters supported a ban on same-sex marriage over and above the federal Defense of Marriage Act, amending the state constitution to say that "any purported marriage not between a man and a woman is invalid" and "a marriage between persons of the same sex will not be recognized for any purpose in this state even when valid where contracted."
One of the only known challenges to that amendment came in 2008. Two women married in Massachusetts in 2005 sought an annulment of their marriage in Buchanan County, Missouri.
One of the women wanted the marriage declared over. Because divorce wasn't an option, she sought an annulment, which, legally speaking, would be akin to declaring that the marriage had never taken place. While the state wouldn't grant the women a divorce, the annulment would allow them to marry again and close the question of marital property.
But before they could receive their annulment in June 2008, state senator Delbert Scott, a Republican from western Missouri, attempted to intervene by filing an amicus brief in the otherwise low-profile case.
In his brief, the senator wrote that the state had no interest in dissolving a union it didn't recognize and that Missouri didn't have jurisdiction over the marriage in the first place. He argued that the women should be left without any legal remedy for ending their relationship.
The judge ultimately granted the annulment, despite Scott's attempts to insert himself (and politics) into the case.
Today, Scott stands by his intervention.
"They weren't married in the first place," Scott says. "A legal document would validate the marriage. The voters in the state of Missouri have spoken loudly and clearly."
The judgment of annulment granted to the women states that "upon hearing the arguments of counsel and based on the pleadings the ourt finds the purported marriage...is void ab initio [from the beginning]."
"You know, the outcome doesn't really make any difference to me," Scott says. "It validates something that wasn't legal in the first place. I think we're pretty clear in Missouri that it should not be allowed. It was never legal, and I don't think humaneness or sympathy has anything to do with it. It's the law of the state. The people could come back stronger next time.
"Get used to it," he adds.
Kay Madden represented the woman who was served annulment papers by her former partner. Her client, she says, wasn't satisfied with the compromise of an annulment as opposed to a divorce.
"It wasn't satisfactory in that the marriage wasn't recognized by the state of Missouri," says Madden. "All it did was say that the marriage never existed, so it let both these women go out into this world." She says they tried to reach a property settlement, but it never came through. (The petitioner in the case didn't respond to requests for an interview, and Madden's client declined comment, saying she's trying to move on with her life.)
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