September 28, 2013 10:18:31 PM
JACKSON -- A woman is asking the conservative state of Mississippi to recognize her out-of-state gay marriage so that she can get a divorce.
Lauren Beth Czekala-Chatham (Chick AH' luh-CHAT' um) married her wife, Dana Ann Melancon, in California, but the couple lived together in Southaven, Miss., until they separated in 2010.
Czekala-Chatham could potentially pursue a divorce in California, which exempts same-sex couple from divorce laws that generally require at least one spouse to be a resident of the state for six months. But according to the California courts website, the state might not be able to issue rulings on matters such as property ownership, debt, alimony or children.
Czekala-Chatham filed her divorce petition in DeSoto County Chancery Court on Sept. 11. Her lawyer, J. Wesley Hisaw (HIGH'-saw), said a favorable ruling on the petition would not mean that same-sex couples could get married in Mississippi because that's banned under Mississippi statute.
"My client is not looking to start gay marriage in Mississippi. She wants the marriage from another state to be recognized so she can get a divorce and protect herself," Hisaw said.
Czekala-Chatham said in a telephone interview Friday that she has children from a prior relationship and is concerned that Melancon could contest her will and possibly get her kids' inheritance if they don't get divorced. Czekala-Chatham is seeking the couple's house in Mississippi and alimony.
Czekala-Chatham hopes Mississippi will recognize her marriage so she can get divorced even if the case goes all the way to the Mississippi Supreme Court.
"I don't know any other way out of it," she said.
Similar cases have popped up in other parts of the U.S. Same-sex couples are trying to use the courts to have their unions recognized by states that prohibit gay marriage following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that struck down parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
The Texas Supreme Court recently said it will consider whether it has jurisdiction over same-sex divorce cases and scheduled oral arguments for Nov. 5. At least two same-sex couples have filed for divorce in the state, which does not permit gay marriage.
Matt Steffey, a constitutional law professor at Mississippi College in Clinton, said Czekala-Chatham's case is a longshot.
"There's no right to terminate a gay marriage in Mississippi any more than there is a right to consummate one," Steffey said.
Steffey said a same-sex divorce case will probably make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court someday, but that could take awhile.
"This is a test case," Steffey said. "At worst, it's simply an exercise in futility. That said, all test cases look like an exercise in futility until they succeed."
Czekala-Chatham's divorce petition alleges adultery and habitual cruel and inhuman treatment.
The petition says that Melancon now lives in Osceola, Ark. She could not immediately be reached for comment Friday.