Held to the Same Standards

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Martina NavratilovaReuters/Mihai Barbu

In the past week, Martina Navratilova has been sued by a former lover, Toni Layton, for millions of dollars in damages and spousal support. Navratilova’s defense hinges on whether or not she can convince the court that her and Layton’s relationship isn’t bound by the same standards as heterosexual marriage.

Layton and Navratilova were never legally married (they did “marry” in an unofficial ceremony in New Hampshire, but then moved to Florida which does not recognize same-sex unions) but they did live together for eight years and shared assets and property. If this had been a legal marriage, there is no question that Layton would be awarded some of those assets and quite possibly spousal support as well.

One reason why I think gay marriage will eventually become legal is so that gay relationships can be held to the same standards as heterosexual ones. Divorces can be as messy as lawsuits but they don’t usually involve the collection of damages.  As it stands now, both parties are vulnerable and neither is protected. As long as the law has different standards for same-sex relationships, these cases will inevitably be settled haphazardly. The legal system doesn’t take kindly to such inconsistencies.

The same sort of dynamic is present in custody suits between same-sex parents. (See my post, “[intlink id=”custody-fights-between-lesbian-partners” type=”post”]Custody Fights Between Lesbian Parents[/intlink].”) Just by being required to handle such cases, the courts are falling back on the marriage model to help them decide their outcomes. And the more often this happens the more likely it is that legal precedent will pave the way for gay marriage, if only to keep things tidy.

Louis Bayard of Salon.com writes that ” Martina Navratilova can no longer cast herself as an apostle for gay rights while using a homophobic legal code to deny her ex-partners alimony [Yes, this has happened before–see article link at top of post]. This is more than bad behavior, it is bad precedent.”  Layton herself is quoted as saying, “‘If I was a man, married or not, I’d be entitled to half of everything that she earned during those years together. But because I’m a woman, it seems, rather conveniently, she believes I’m entitled to next to nothing.”

Navratilova–and the rest of the gay community–needs to wake up: if they continue to press for equal rights (and I am totally behind their doing so) then they better prepare themselves for the equal responsibilities as well.

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Ellen Keim

Ellen is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with three cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.

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