New York Gay Couples Rush to Marry, Perhaps Divorce

On the first day they can wed, 823 same-sex couples will descend on city hall.

July 22, 2011, 2:43 PM

July 24, 2011 — -- Fredy Kaplan, 50, and Anthony Cipriano, 42, will display their wedding bands -- the letters "F" and "A" tattooed on their ring fingers -- as they arrive at New York's City Hall today to be among the first couples to marry in the largest state to legalize gay marriage.

Kaplan is an attorney and gay rights activist, and Cipriano constructs showroom displays for high-end retailers. The couple will keep their own names for professional reasons, though they often refer to themselves as "Kapliano."

"It's going to be the Woodstock of gay marriage," said Kaplan when he learned Friday that he and Cipriano would be one of 823 same-sex couples to tie the knot today. "Tons of people are going to witness it and it's going to be bigger than the gay pride parade."

But as the hundreds of affianced make their way to the legal altar this week, how many of those unions will be "until death do we part"? Each year, 40 to 50 percent of all marriages between a man and a woman end in divorce in the United States.

Kaplan and Cipriano are optimistic they will beat the odds.

"We've had our ups and downs, but we always got through it," said Kaplan. "That's why we always knew it would work out with us. ... We've been together so long."

The pair, who have lived together "lovingly" for six years, share a small apartment in the East Village with their two dogs -- "a Tibetan terrier to die for" and an old, black, miniature schnauzer.

"The most important thing is that we know we are recognized, we are verified," said Kaplan, who with Cipriano will wear a white polo shirt and khakis when they exchange vows today.

"Matching, of course," he said. "We're gay."

More couples are expected to get married at New York City Hall than at any other time in history. An estimated 60 state judges have volunteered to work on Sunday to review requests to waive the usual 24-hour waiting period.

There is no data on divorce rates among gay couples in marriage equality states, according to the Williams Institute, a University of California Los Angeles Law School think tank. But a study of states that have civil unions and domestic partnerships showed about 2 percent of same-sex couples dissolved their relationships -- "about the same percentage of married couples who divorce in a given year," said Williams research scholar Gary Gates.

Studies of heterosexual couples at the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University in New Jersey showed that those who moved in together without clear wedding plans appeared to have an increased risk of divorce.

"Couples who cohabitate are less religious, more untraditional and poorer," said Nicholas Wolfinger, a sociologist at the University of Utah and author of the 2005 book, "Understanding the Divorce Cycle."

"All of these things are basically good predictors of divorce," he said. "But it reflects the kinds of people who are likely to cohabit and not the relationship."

Wolfinger said he hesitates to apply that to gay couples.

"Plenty would be married, but they couldn't," he said. "I suspect, for many reasons, those couples are more likely to stay together than heterosexuals."

Same-sex couples tend to be older, and "the older you are the more likely you are to stay married," he said.

Other studies showed a "fairly large minority" of gay men tend to be more promiscuous, according to Wolfinger.

"So far, many gay men seem to be OK with that," he said. "But as gay marriage goes forward, that's a big question. It may not be as big a predictor as for heterosexual couples."

Gay Divorce Is Complicated by 'Mini DOMA' States

When gay unions do fail, there are a host of other complications because same-sex marriage is only legal in seven states and the District of Columbia. Many other states have adopted "mini DOMA" laws resembling the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between only a man and a woman.

Courts in Rhode Island and judges in Oklahoma and Texas have refused to grant divorces to gay couples who were legally married elsewhere. The presumption is the marriage never occurred in the first place.

One New Yorker, Karen Hartman, wrote about living in seven years of "legal limbo" trying to get her 2000 civil union in Vermont dissolved because of a one-year-residency requirement in that state.

For those who will flock to New York now to marry, they may face similar obstacles because a one-year residence requirement applies before divorce can be legally granted.

Under New York law, divorces for same-sex couples are treated the same way as those for heterosexual ones, according to Peggy Brady, a New York City attorney who deals in family law, especially among the gay and lesbian community. But some issues are still problematic.

"Property distribution starts on the day of marriage," she said. "In a gay relationship, there is a lot of speculation: Will the court take into consideration the pre-marital time period? We have many couples who have been together 10 years, 18 years, 26 years."

New York views any children adopted or born during the marriage as "children of the marriage," and either spouse can be responsible for child support, according to Brady. But spousal support may be viewed differently.

Brady recently handled the case of a lesbian couple with three children, all of whom were adopted by the second parent, who refused to pay palimony.

"The biological mom stayed home to raise the kids," she said. "She is getting child support, but she is not getting support for herself because she is not married."

Brady asked: If they were married, would the courts count the 11 years the biological mother devoted to child care for spousal support?

Brady agreed there are certain to be divorces among same-sex couples.

"Gay people aren't any different from straight people," she said. "But I think people have been waiting a very long time to get married and, in my own experience ... they are doing it softly and there aren't any shotgun weddings."

Still, she is getting lots of calls for prenuptial agreements, mostly from couples who are "mid-career and beyond" who have been in other relationships and perhaps have children and other financial obligations.

"But gay couples over the years have made equitable distributions in significant sums when they had no legal obligation to do so because they thought it was the right thing to do," said Brady.

That sense of fairness is why Kaplan and Cipriano said they didn't feel the need for a pre-nup.

"First of all, we don't own a lot asset-wise," said Kaplan. "And it would never be an issue anyhow because of the people we are. Our values and families are similar."

The process leading to their marriage has also been confusing. When they applied for a marriage license earlier this month, their only choice was "bride" or "groom." Kaplan laughed it off and declared to his betrothed, "You're going to be the bride."

City clerks straightened out the mess within 24 hours by rephrasing personal information categories to "Bride/Groom/Spouse A" and "Bride/Groom/Spouse B."

As a young man, Cipriano was married to a woman, so they had to get all the divorce decree paperwork from the courts so as not to have any legal glitches.

"I am a lawyer, but a part of me is just numb," said Kaplan. "It's exciting, though -- just, wow. I never expected it to happen so quick. So why wait to get married? We have been married."

Both of their families are supportive, but Kaplan, the first-generation son of Polish Jews, said his parents are still "getting used to the concept" of gay marriage and won't be at today's ceremony. Cipriano's mother will attend.

They are beginning to set aside money for a honeymoon and are planning a party with family and friends -- "something not traditional; we're not traditional folks," he said.

As for children, they already discussed that and say "definitely," but perhaps through adoption.

Kaplan said they have an "obligation" to make their marriage work to "show the world" that all same-sex couples are not "dancing with their shirts off at a party in the Hamptons."

"I personally think that gay people will be able to show how marriage works and the reason why you get married," he said. "There are couples who have been together for 30 years and they have weathered so much, the fact that we as a community battled so much as a unit."

Their advice to the hundreds of couples who will marry today: "Just have fun and do it for the right reason," Kaplan said. "That's what we've been fighting for."