The gay divorcee

It's the inevitable side effect of marriage

With the reality of legally sanctioned gay marriage now in Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec, it is very unromantic but essential to focus on the fallout of marriage – namely divorce.

Though Canadian law does not yet provide for same-sex divorce, it is sure to follow, sanctioned by the courts or by Parliament. A thorough discussion of the nature of gay divorce needs to become a major part of the current debate on same-sex marriage inside our community before it becomes the law of the land.

Marriage is a legal contract conferring society’s ultimate legitimacy on a relationship, but it also comes with certain obligations. Gay men and lesbians should be painfully aware of the legal obligations before we rush headlong into it. It is all too easy to lose one’s heart, but very difficult to build a financial nest egg.

Unfortunately, marriage and divorce go hand in hand. As Voltaire famously stated, “Divorce is probably of nearly the same date as marriage. I believe, however, that marriage is some weeks the more ancient.”

The divorce rate for straights is today approaching 50 percent. One can only guess what the divorce rate will be for gay men and women in the years to come, but it is arguable that it will be high, given that as a whole we are both a romantic and cynical lot.

Possibly some new ground rules for divorce might have to be worked out for a same-sex context. Straight marriages end for a variety of reasons, ranging from adultery to incompatibility, which covers a multitude of sins.

Obviously sex outside marriage cannot be a just cause for divorce in the gay world, where multiple sex partners and sexual adventures have been a proud tradition. Rather, the vague category of incompatibility will likely be the most common grounds.

Still, many older, established gay men are already beginning to fear the unknowns of gay divorce, and if the heterosexual divorce model is the legal precedent (which as things now stand the courts will logically adopt), then heaven help the affluent gay divorcee.

One of the major elements of a divorce apart from the dissolution of the marriage is the equitable division of assets. It is incumbent on any gay man or woman of a certain economic status with tangible real estate or other financial assets to contemplate the abyss of divorce. Is the gay future one in which gay fortune hunters (à la Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell in How To Marry A Millionaire) court and marry richer or older gay people in order to get a hook into their assets?

As straight divorce now exists, a spouse is entitled to up to half of the other partner’s assets under certain conditions and all of the assets after death if there is no will. (Under existing common-law relationships, which hitherto governed same-sex cohabitation, two people have to live together for at least a year or two before the court will even consider an asset redistribution and even then, it’s still shaky.)


There is no doubt that gay divorce will rapidly become a new and lucrative and growth industry for lawyers. After all, “divorce is a game played by lawyers,” as actor Cary Grant once said.

Do we want to be the prey of a new generation of blond twinkies in search of easy financial security and voracious lawyers out to exploit a marriage breakdown for their own financial advantage? Or should we perhaps rethink this whole business and let the head govern the heart? Should marriage be reserved for the minority of gay people with children or those in special situations for which legal marriage (and divorce) will be totally beneficial.

Marriage as it exists is a very serious business which revolves around love and happiness. But its underside is divorce which is about money and misery. As lesbian author Rita Mae Brown once said, “Divorce is the one human tragedy that reduces everything to cash.”

Let’s think this out very carefully before we adopt the flawed heterosexual institutions of marriage and divorce.

* James Dubro is a crime writer, television documentary film producer and bookseller. He is working as executive producer and researcher for a CBC television documentary on the purge of gay men and lesbians in the military and the RCMP. He can be reached at

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