Monday, January 30, 2012

Gay Marriage Can Also Equal Gay Divorces

Gay marriage is, in many ways, the leading civil rights issue of our era.  States are slowly but surely joining the movement to ratify gay marriage, and it is of course a very hot-button issue.  I am not a hot button issue kind of guy, but the fact that the gay marriage bill in Washington is ready to come up for a vote does involve one issue that I am always thinking about.  While the consequence of gay marriage is obvious, the logical conclusion is not: that gay marriage will also mean gay divorce, the same as any other marriage that ends in divorce.  Looking at divorce rates across the country, it is clear that while all states have had a reduction in divorce (likely due to the recession), gay marriage also means gay divorce.  And just like heterosexual marriage, same sex couples do not like to face the fact that the honeymoon does not last forever and divorce may happen.  The numbers for many states are still too recent to fully break down how the numbers for divorce are within same sex couples.  But the fact that gay marriage is such a hot button issue, with nary a whisper of gay divorce, is avoiding the issue.  Marriages end in divorce.  Custody battles get ugly.  And facing that fact will make the debate about gay marriage one about practical realities, rather than just theoretcial discussions about morality.  Gay marriage is a snowball gathering momentum, and we need to start looking at the effects rather than trying to push the snowball back up the hill.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Bias Against Men in the Seattle Courts?

     Another attorney recently pointed out an article to me in the Seattle Weekly:  As a Seattle domestic violence attorney, I could not help but be fascinated by the article, as it is something I have thought about many times.  I have had clients who were alleged victims of domestic violence, and clients who were alleged perpetrators of domestic violence.  The piece makes some very good points.  For anyone who has not sat in on a family law motions calendar, it can all be surprising.  The lawyers have a few minutes each to plead their case, the commissioner can cut in with questions or interruptions, and presto, in minutes you have temporary orders that dictate how the case will go.  But domestic violence is a tricky issue.  It truly does go more beyond actual physical harm.  Extensive research has led to Washington laws defining domesticviolence as the following: “(a) Physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or the infliction of fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury or assault, between family or householddeni members; (b) sexual assault of one family or household member by another; or (c) stalking...of one family or household member by another family or household member."
     One thing I have to say, I believe that court commissioners try their very best to understand the issues.  They do get a chance to look at parties' documents beforehand, and if you have seen hundreds or even thousands of cases before, you can tell what arguments are legitimate and which are throwing things at the wall to see what sticks.  The question to me is not how do we sort out the lies from the truth.  No human can possibly answer that.  Domestic violence cases are often he-said, she-said, and the commissioner has to pick someone to believe.  For instance, if the allegation is one of the infliction of fear of imminent harm, how is one able to sniff out the truth from any lies by either side? 
     It seems that we, as a society, have decided to err on the side of alleged victims of abuse.  The article quotes numerous men who have been allegedly falsely determined to be abusers.  However, we, as a society, have made the choice that we would rather risk men wrongfully accused then women wrongfully denied.  Nobody, lawyer or judge, wants blood on their hands, wants to be the one who did not believe an abuser who was telling the truth.  With any such decision, there will be consequences, one of which is the plight of men such as those quoted in this article.  And at the same time, the fact is that there are a great deal of men who deny that their behavior is abuse, and women who deny that they are being abused.  In some ways, the system we have is in place to protect people from each other and also to protect them from themselves.  Emotional abuse and drastic measures of control are domestic violence.
     On the other hand, without naming names, some domestic violence programs are behind the times.  They try to shame dads into believing they are abusers, and try to perpetuate this system of "cure by shame."  There are definitely fathers out there who have been deemed abusers because of a heated argument or leverage by women.  And that is a true shame.  When I was a teacher, I felt the sting of reverse gender bias; most elementary school teachers are still women, and as a man, the principal often decided men were poor teachers until proven otherwise.  But that is slowly changing, and the law is another area that changes slowly.  Rather than citing problems, we should be able to advocate change in a meaningful way that protects while also understands.
     The system is not perfect by any means.  But I firmly believe society, from judges to lawyers to counselors, are looking at ways to shift the balance from fear of all men to balance and equity.  The only question is how we do it and how long it takes to get it done.  The article, in sum, was good for making one think, but not necessarily good at making one think about how to act.