I’ve been struggling with whether or not to even write this post. On the one hand, the legalization of gay marriage was such a wonderful event, and I don’t want to bring anybody down. On the other hand, there are plenty of people who will point to posts like this one and say “See, this is why the gays shouldn’t be allowed to get married. Everyone knows they bounce from one relationship to another.” Never mind that the divorce rate in America is somewhere between 40% and 50%. (Check out the CDC numbers on divorce and marriage here, or this fascinating New York Times article that tracks divorce rates by the decade in which couples were married. It suggests the divorce rate may actually be going down.)
Still, divorce is a reality for many people who get married, no matter what the official numbers are, and it’s a reality for me.
October 6th, 2014 should have been a wonderful day for me. Instead, it remains bittersweet in my memory. On that day, the Supreme Court of the United States declined to take up the state of Wisconsin’s case appeal as to the constitutionality of its gay marriage ban, effectively legalizing same-sex marriage in the state. I remember being incredibly elated and desperately sad, in a swirling mish-mash of contradictory feelings I hope I never have to experience again.
My soon-to-be ex-wife and I were married in 2006 after gay marriage was legalized in Manitoba, the province in which I was born, and where I still have family. That was an amazing day, one I still remember fondly, despite what has come since. At that time, I was desperately happy, but things changed. The blame can be laid at both our feet, I think. I know I certainly bear my fair share. My ex is a wonderful woman, however, after eight years we had grown in different directions. My life and my career were taking off, while hers was starting to wind down, and I was no longer able to breach the gap that had grown between us. There were many issues there, and I don’t intend to go into them, that’s not what this post is about. Suffice it to say, I’ve never borne her any ill-will.
That October day, I could get a divorce without having to go back to Winnipeg. So while I was thrilled that I was now legally married in Wisconsin, my excitement was tempered by the fact that it also meant I could put a final and legal end to my irretrievably-broken marriage. That is what I have been doing for the past six months.
The process is difficult. It’s emotionally draining and every time I have to deal with it and my ex, I feel like I’ve been put through the wringer. I can understand how divorcees can end up hating each other, even with the best of intentions to remain amicable. Even if they hadn’t hated each other before the divorce, it’s difficult not to be pulled into the resentment and frustration of the process and end up hating the other by the end. There are days I have to remind myself that the process is what’s frustrating me. Some days I even believe it.
It’s been an emotional marathon, compounded by the fact that we have a house we’re working on getting into shape to sell, which only adds another layer of sadness. I can still recall the excitement I had when we moved in, and readying it for sale to someone else hurts. Neither of us is in a position to keep it on our own, so it’s the right decision, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Incidentally, that’s not a terrible metaphor for my decision to end things between us.
As hard as it’s been, it would be soooooo much more difficult to go through all of this outside the courts. Divorce is hard and it sucks so much more than I anticipated, but having to disentangle two lives without the benefit of legal structure would be infinitely worse. I watched a very good friend of mine go through that years ago after her six-year relationship with her girlfriend failed. The crap her ex put my friend through is not to be believed. It’s something I wouldn’t have believed if I hadn’t witnessed much of it myself. To discover that anyone is capable of doing such things to the person they once claimed to love is incredibly saddening. It’s even worse when it was someone I had liked.
So yes, gay marriages will sometimes end in divorce, probably at the same rate as straight marriages I would imagine. But the right to get divorced, the right to rationally and legally disentangle on life from another is just as important as the right to inherit from your spouse, or to visit the in the hospital, or to raise your children upon the death of the other. It’s as important as sharing benefits, filing taxes together, and the hundreds of other rights and benefits afforded to married couples. The rights and benefits of marriage are hugely important to gays, just as they are to heterosexuals. The right to be married has been incredibly important to our community, but just as important is the right to end a marriage.
This post may anger some people and it may vindicate others, but there you have it. I would love to say that I had nothing but happiness over that October 2014 decision and the one of this past summer, but I was of two minds. However, those decisions meant I could end one chapter of my life.
Now I’ll work on starting the next.