Recently in Diversity Category

Gay Marriage, Sister Wives, Polygamy, Contracts, Personal Freedom

December 1, 2011, by

I have long been a supporter of gay marriage and the rights of LGBT folks to have the same rights as the rest of us. However, I also think it is important to be flexible and open to new ideas and discussions any all controversial issues. Hence, more ideas on gay marriage and beyond.

As same-sex marriage becomes increasingly legal in various states, more companies require that their employees become legally married in order for their partners to qualify for health insurance. Currently, many of these same companies already provide domestic partner benefits for employees with same sex partner in states where cannot legally marry.

While this would appear to be what advocates of same-sex marriage want, there may also be unintended consequences. One obvious problem is that although the marriage may be recognized in a given state, it is not yet recognized by the federal government making marriage not a feasible choice for some couples and in so doing would deprive them of the health insurance benefits they previously enjoyed. It is important that when states legalize gay marriage, they also keep the domestic partnership option available at least until gay marriage is recognized by the federal government.

More importantly, however, even than maintaining the option of domestic partnerships, is to broaden the narrow terms of the debate. Conservatives want a narrow definition of marriage as only between one man and one woman. The LGBT movement has focused solely on marriage equality. Both are too limiting, since a fundamental problem with marriage is that it only comes in one size as a legal relationship. But as a personal relationship, marriage or its equivalents, is unique and personal and often sacred. Marriage, civil unions and the like, just as any contract or partnership agreement, should be as flexible as a business contract in enabling the participants to create an agreement that is tailored to their needs and circumstances and reflects their values and goals.

Therefore, the struggle for marriage equality should perhaps also include efforts to obtain legal recognition for a wider range of relationships, households and families, regardless of conjugal status. Marriage is not the only form of family or relationship worthy of legally and economically privileged status above others and by making marriage the goal, those who live in non-nuclear families are excluded. This might include blended families, unmarried couples, adult children living with and caring for their parents, grandparents living with and caring for their grandchildren, close friends or siblings in non-conjugal relationships serving as each other's primary support and caregivers.

This is reflected in the lawsuit of Kody Brown and his four wives from the reality TV show, Sister Wives, challenging the Utah polygamy law. Bigamy is a third-degree felony in Utah, and a person can be found guilty of bigamy through cohabitation, not just legal marriage contracts. The Browns', Jonathan Turley, attorney claims that the state is persecuting citizens for living their religious values and the lawsuit seeks to protect a person's right to be left alone. Prosecutors claim the family is committing a felony every night on television. Brown and his 'wives' are relying on the Supreme Court's 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003), holding that the state could not prosecute people for engaging in private, consensual sexual behavior - in that case, gay sex.

In Lawrence v. Texas the U.S. Supreme Court held, specifically, that "[t]his case does not involve minors, persons who might be injured or coerced, those who might not easily refuse consent, or public conduct or prostitution. It does involve two adults who, with full and mutual consent, engaged in sexual practices common to a homosexual lifestyle. Petitioners' right to liberty under the Due Process Clause gives them the full right to engage in private conduct without government intervention."

Similarly, the relationship between Brown and his wives appears that it does not (directly) involve minors or those who might be injured, a lack of consent or inappropriate public conduct, and would seemingly be entitled to engage in their private conduct without government intervention.

Divorce in the Diverse San Francisco Bay Area

August 2, 2011, by

I live and practice law in Fremont, California, one of the most diverse communities in the diverse San Francisco Bay area. Over half the population of Fremont is Asian and Fremont has more folks from Afghanistan than any city in the US. Consequently, many of my clients are Asian and Middle Eastern.

Asian clients often express their belief that divorce is more shameful in their culture and consequently more difficult for them. In addition, in those cultures where arranged marriages are common, and even if the marriage itself was not arranged, the divorce involves the entire extended family.

Another difficulty for these clients in a divorce is that the cultural and legal systems from their country of origin differ from the American system, but American courts will not take these factors into account. For example, aspects of Sharia law or property issues related to dowry may be very important to the spouses but will not be factors that a California divorce court will consider. But in mediation or Collaborative, couples can incorporate their own sense of fairness and justice and/or values and principles that derive from their cultural and ethnic background and thereby create agreements that honor their highest values and the values of their culture.