Kentucky Male Couple’s Joint Bankruptcy Gives Legal Weight to Their N.Y. Marriage
Kentucky may not recognize same-sex marriage but a federal judge has ruled that a gay couple, who married in New York, can file for joint bankruptcy in the state, the Courier-Journal reported.
It is believed that Bob Joles, 48, and Joey Lester, 47, are the first gay married couple to file for joint bankruptcy in Kentucky.
The couple, together for 16 years and married on May 9 in Buffalo, N.Y., lost more than $200,000 they invested in a market located in downtown Louisville.
After losing the money, the couple was allowed to file a joint Chapter 13 bankruptcy in federal court because the Justice Department said last year that the United States trustee, the department's division that manages bankruptcy code, could no longer oppose joint bankruptcy filings by married same-sex couples. This is because the Obama administration does not challenge such requests.
Nanda Chitre, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department, said the department will no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act when it is challenged in lawsuits and that the department decided not to fight bankruptcy filings from same-sex couples because House Republican lawyers have not challenged bankruptcy filings.
A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R) said it would be too expensive and that bankruptcy cases are "unlikely to provide the path to the Supreme Court, where we imagine the question of constitutionality will ultimately be decided," the Courier-Journal points out.
Shannon Fauver, the couple's lawyer, said the court's ruling, "gives them protections they didn't have before. It is a big deal." Fauver also said she plans to file a bankruptcy petition for a married lesbian couple soon.
"It made our marriage seem more real," Joles, who ran the market and is now unemployed, said. "And it forced the court to recognize us as a married couple."'
Lester, a sales trainer for Verizon Wireless, said it was unfortunate they had to file for bankruptcy but it made sense to file together.
"We have been together for 16 years, and our money is our money and our debts are our debts," he said.
Chris Hartman, the director of the Fairness Campaign, a civil rights group, applauded the ruling and said there are more than 1,400 legal privileges that heterosexual couples have that are denied to same-sex couples.
Not everyone agrees with the ruling. Martin Cothran, a policy analyst for the Family Foundation of Kentucky, said the Obama administration's policy change is a "backdoor way of establishing same-sex marriage in the state," which would go against the constitute amendment that states marriage is defined as a union between one man and one woman.
State Rep. Stan Lee (R) agreed with Cothran's statements.
"For a bankruptcy trustee and judge to allow this to go forward in the commonwealth of Kentucky is an affront to the citizens of this state who spoke very loudly in 2004 when they passed the marriage amendment," he said. He also said it is troubling that the Justice Department, at the direction of this president, would decide to choose what laws they enforce and not enforce. He is charged with enforcing all the laws, not just the ones he likes."
By filing jointly, the men saved $306 on a second filing fee and Joles was allowed to keep his car. It also prevented the men from dividing their personal items they have accumulated while living together. Joels said it would have been the equivalent of going through a divorce.
"We live here and pay taxes here," he said. "It is nice to know we have the same rights as other Americans."