A Chained Man
Thanks to the patchwork of laws about same-sex marriage, I got trapped in legal limbo when I wanted a divorce
My predicament was in no way as extreme as an agunah’s, and my travails were trivial compared to what agunot endure for months, years, or decades. I butted up against no adverse consequences in my communities, and I lacked no means of economic or other support. I was not extorted, intimidated, shamed, or shunned as a prelude to divorce; I was simply unable to get one.
And yet, even with the experiential gaps that stood between agunot and me, we lived in a shared limbo, chained indefinitely to a partner we no longer shared our lives with in practical terms, but unable to move forward.
Years passed. I dated off and on, but struggled with how to share my complicated background. My general practice was to avoid conversations about this part of my past as best as possible, lest I feel compelled to provide long stretches of explanatory context (or to at least try). For better or for worse, at no point did a relationship develop to the degree where I was comfortable doing so or where it seemed necessary.
Meanwhile, the rest of my life continued. I left Philadelphia, went from practicing law to matriculating at rabbinical school, studied in Israel, lived in New York City, and finally returned to Pennsylvania. But as far as I went, as far as the chain stretched, I stayed tethered to a part of my past and to someone whose whereabouts and circumstances were unknown to me.
This past July, my ex and I were in contact for the first time in nine years. He had moved to California, he said, and wanted to take advantage of laws there to officially end what remained of our relationship. I agreed, and we moved along amicably. Our court docket reflected my own labeling ambivalence, referring to our cause of action as a “Petition for Dissolution – Domestic Partnership” that concluded with a “Judgment for Dissolution of Marriage.” This lexical equivocation aside, any lingering legal linkage between us lapsed this year on Feb. 2, the date when the court order decreed our “marital status ends”; indifferent to Punxsutawney Phil’s prognostication, I left Groundhog Day 2013 with this particular shadow slightly shorter.
I’ve spent the past several months meandering from anxiety to sadness to relief to gratitude, revisiting stray memories and walking toward closure. I can’t say exactly what, at this late point, we’ve wrapped up, and I’m not sure if I’m divorced, single, “civilly disunited,” or something else. But among my certainties is this: I look forward to a day when religious and secular shackles are broken, freeing agunim and agunot of all kinds to move on with their lives.
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