A California judge has ruled that a gay couple can divorce, but the legal process remains murky and the process will likely take several years to complete.
The couples’ case will be heard in Santa Clara County Superior Court on April 13.
It is unclear how long that will take, and a ruling could not be immediately predicted.
“It’s still very much in the very early stages,” said Scott Heisler, a professor at the University of California-Berkeley Law School who specializes in gay marriage.
The judge could decide that a divorce would take longer than the three-year deadline, Heislers said.
The California Constitution makes clear that “the civil rights of every person shall be protected.”
That does not mean gay couples must be able to divorce.
The state’s law protects gay couples from discrimination in places like employment, housing, education and credit.
It also prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation.
“They could choose to divorce, and the question is how long it would take them to get there,” Heislander said.
He said California has seen a spike in gay marriages in recent years.
California is the only state in the nation where gay marriage is legal.
The Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in 2015 and last year, a federal appeals court ruled in favor of same-sex couples.
The ruling in the civil marriage case comes as the Supreme Court prepares to hear a case involving the constitutionality of Proposition 8, a voter-approved ballot initiative that banned same-gender marriage in California.
The justices are set to hear oral arguments in June in a challenge to Proposition 8 by California’s same-fertility clinics, which are a common way to conduct marriage ceremonies.
The clinics say they are legal and their services are not discriminatory.
“It will be difficult to find a judge who is not going to rule that the gay couples cannot divorce,” Heiseler said.
The ruling comes amid a broader trend in the country toward civil unions, which permit gay couples to share in property and other legal rights in the form of joint property.
In California, the ruling does not affect marriages performed in other states.
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