Divorce granted to Mississippi same-sex couple after 2 years

AP News
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Posted: Dec 01, 2015 7:01 PM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Two years after their divorce filing got entangled in Mississippi's efforts to prevent same-sex marriage, a judge Tuesday dissolved the legal union of Lauren Czekala-Chatham and Dana Ann Melancon.

Czekala-Chatham and her lawyer, Carey Varnado, said the end came in Water Valley, 50 miles south of DeSoto County, where the pair filed for divorce in 2013.

There, Chancery Judge Mitchell Lundy Jr. called Varnado and Czekala-Chatham into his chambers and signed the order ending the marriage, the woman and her lawyer said. Czekala-Chatham said Melancon, who moved to Arkansas after the couple separated, did not attend.

"Of course I'm very happy because my life has been on hold for going on two years now," Czekala-Chatham said in a phone interview Tuesday.

Lundy ruled in 2013 that he couldn't grant the divorce because the Mississippi Constitution and state law didn't recognize the couple's 2008 marriage in California. Czekala-Chatham said he was cordial Tuesday.

"The judge was a great guy," she said. "He couldn't apologize enough for not being able to grant it the first time."

A call to Lundy's office in Grenada was not answered late Tuesday.

The move came a month after the Mississippi Supreme Court cleared the way for Lundy to act after the U.S. Supreme Court's issued a ruling in June that effectively legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, a Democrat, had opposed Czekala-Chatham's initial appeal to the state high court, but asked the court to allow the divorce after the Supreme Court's ruling. Five justices signed an order sending the case back to Lundy, while two others who agreed called for a full opinion. Two others wrote dissents suggesting they wanted to uphold Mississippi's ban on same-sex marriage and challenge the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Czekala-Chatham said she's now considering marriage to her girlfriend of four years, Dawn Miller. She said the notoriety brought by the case has made it hard for her to find a new job after being laid off.

"It's hurt me in a lot of ways," Czekala-Chatham said. "The only thing I've gotten out of this is a divorce."

However, she said the experience has made her more politically engaged, and that she hopes Mississippi will move toward laws that will prohibit employment and housing discrimination against gay people.

Other same-sex couples are currently seeking to overturn Mississippi's last-in-the-nation ban on adoption by gay couples. A federal judge is considering requests by the plaintiffs to block the ban pending a full trial, while the state is trying to get the case thrown out.

"We have to take baby steps in this state," Czekala-Chatham said.

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