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The First Lesbian Divorce Case

10 Jul Posted by in Rachel Wahba | 6 comments
The First Lesbian Divorce Case

DOMA, the “Defense of Marriage Act,” should have been a bad joke instead of a law the Supreme Court finally declared unconstitutional this week (June 26,2013).

But it wasn’t a joke, and neither was my marriage of 31 years to a woman whom I legally married one week before Prop. 8 got viciously overturned four and a half years ago.

Today California couples in limbo for the past four years are now legally married. We won a cause we fought for and wondered if we would ever see the day…and here it is!

We celebrate wildly as we wrap our minds around this new reality. It took so long and happened so fast.

I was hit, not surprisingly with a mix of joy and grief.  I am in the middle of divorce. I wanted a proper marriage, instead I am getting a proper divorce.

In most of my 31 years with my “partner” we longed for this day. We applied every time San Francisco offered marriage, each time to be rescinded by higher courts.

I am the first lesbian divorce case for my lawyer. I asked from the beginning for her to deal with this as a heterosexual marriage—just like she would handle any other of her many divorce cases. My “partner,” now legal “wife”, would not contest it, I insisted. My soon to be “ex”-wife is decent, she knows even if the court doesn’t, that we were always married. My lawyer explained, “The law doesn’t recognize you as a married couple” she repeated, frustrating and frightening me.

None of it makes sense in my heart. I work with my grief — Instead of screaming out in joy “Darling, we are TRULY married,” I cry.  My friends understand my grief in the midst of a great triumph.

Personally I work with all the feelings betrayal evokes. Politically I feel elated, this is for real. We are no longer second-class citizens.

I wish my mother, who grew up a second -class citizen as a Jew in Iraq was here now.

“What? You are “choosing” to be a second-class citizen?”

She was in agony when I came out as a lesbian-feminist in the mid-seventies.

She was scared and angry.

“Are you crazy? You will have no rights. The Jewish community will never accept you (hers was a very different Jewish community in Baghdad). “

She worked so hard to get us to the United States, it took twenty years to get out of being Stateless, to have a passport, be  EQUAL, and here I was blowing it.

“Mom, this is not Iraq. This is America. I am living my life.”

“No you can’t!” She screamed back at me.

She didn’t understand life could be lived not just survived.

I lived and thrived in my life for a long time in a stable relationship, a marriage till death do us part.

When it crashed, I went back to surviving.

When the celebrations started to mark the end of DOMA, I wasn’t sure I wanted to join the crowds. Fortunately with the loving support of my new girlfriend we did get to the Castro and share in the joy. Of course I am a part of this deeply historic moment that IMMEDIATELY and profoundly changes the lives of so many on so many levels.

Gay bi-national couples now have a new lease on life.  Children of gay parents are now financially protected. Disenfranchised no longer, we now have the same financial benefits taken for granted by heterosexual couples.

This ruling has removed our second-class status.

With tens of thousands across the USA we spilled onto the streets of our cities filled with a new sense of belonging.

In the Castro, a Sister of Perpetual Indulgence mirrored my joy, “Your smile is lighting up the whole street!” she exclaimed.  She didn’t know I cried my bitter tears earlier.

It’s a new day and despite my propensity to look backwards, I am pushed into the Present where joy, gratefulness and hope trumps self-pity.

The Personal is the Political indeed.

We are celebrating a new day. The best is yet to come.



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  • Liza says:

    My partner and I suffered through the first divorce-with-children in Vermont. Although it was called a “dissolution” because, at that time in the early 1990’s we were civil unioned rather than married, none the less they made us jump through all the same hoops as heterosexual married couples, including going to classes for divorced parents. I never felt married, but I sure felt divorced. There’s nothing like the cold clammy eye of the law staring at you through your grief. Here’s an article my partner wrote about it.

  • Liza says:

    Oops, time travel issues. We were civil unioned and divorced in 2003, not the early nineties.

  • Carmen de Monteflores says:

    Moving story, Rachel. I wonder how many women are struggling with the same ironic situation. Thank you for always bringing personal insights into your writing.

  • Karena Franses says:

    Ahhh darling Rachel I love this story. I am so moved by it and the connections you make with your mother and her second class status in Iraq. I love you

  • rachel wahba says:

    liza its all too hard sometimes isn’t it?
    thank you for sharing your story — i hate the word “divorce” or “closure” none of it makes sense to me

  • Silvia Castellanos says:

    ….bitter-sweet. Gracias Rachel.