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The Legal Side of... Valentine’s Day - ThinkstockPhotos-79080857-d3-c.jpg

The legal side of… Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is imminent, and once again, in matters of the heart, it’s litigation, not love, that’s in the air. Hoo boy, are there a whole lotta love, “love lite,” and marriage-related cases in the courts. It’s been almost a half-century since Jimmy Ruffin asked “What Becomes of the Broken-Hearted?” and in 2015 we have our answer: they invariably end up before a magistrate.

Free divorce contest

But let’s begin with a tip of the hat to the law firms in West Virginia, Michigan, and elsewhere who run contests each year granting the grand prize winner a free Valentine’s Day divorce. I have to say that as far as advertising one’s divorce practice goes, it’s a great gimmick, second only to having Tony Bennett sing “I Left My Heart in the Law Offices of Stein, Stein, Jacoby, and Stein.”

The war against love

This Valentine’s Day, the mother lode of issues concerning affairs of the heart (or the hard-hearted) is, once again, gay marriage. Even as the U.S. Supreme Court gets ready to hear oral arguments in April to decide the matter, the grate state of Alabama (because, you know, so often Alabama grates) decided it couldn’t just remain on the sidelines any longer.

No sooner had U.S. District Judge Callie Granade ruled that the Alabama Marriage Protection Act, along with the added protection of the Sanctity of Marriage Amendment, was unconstitutional and Alabama had to allow gays to wed, than ol’ reliable Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore threw a grenade on Granade’s ruling by telling the state’s probate judges not to carry it out, under threat of penalty.

Alabama’s state motto is said to be “We Dare Defend Our Rights,” but that’s only half of it. When you turn the card with the motto over, it continues, “By Denying YOUR Rights!” Some Alabama officials, caught in the middle and wishing to avoid being penalized by one side or the other, are refusing to marry anybody, straight, or gay, until this blow over. Opponents of gay marriage have long prophesied that gay marriage would threaten traditional marriage. What they didn’t say was that it was a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Half-hearted cakes

In tangentially-related news, a few months back, there was the case of the baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple and was subsequently sued, followed by that of the Denver bakery that refused the request of a man who wanted the proprietors to bake a Bible-shaped cake christened with anti-homosexual epithets. This raised all sorts of legal questions regarding under what circumstances business owners can refuse to serve customers, and why is poor cake being made a scapegoat?

No means no, only yes means yes

This is also the first Valentine’s Day to see more than 800 colleges and universities, according to the National Center for Higher Education Risk Management, including all those in California, adopt some kind of “Yes Means Yes” affirmative consent definition of sexual assault. Out is the old “her lips said ‘no’ but her eyes said ‘yes’” defense. Now before any clasps can be unfastened, lips and eyes have to be in total accord, and on the record. Preferably with a notary present.

Revenge of the exes

On the flip (and ugly) side, spurned affections are at the root of a recent wave of lawsuits and legislation related to the phenomenon with the charming name “revenge porn.” Dumped lovers (mostly male) post nude photos of their exes (mostly female) online and on social media that were shared, it’s safe to say, during more amicable times. Legislators around the country are scrambling to figure out how to deal with the perpetrators, but what I’d like to see included in any such legislation is a mandatory asking-and-answering of this question directed to the poster: “If my girlfriend dumped me for being a total jerk, and in return I post naked photos of her online for the world to see, doesn’t that prove she was right?”

Happy Valentine’s Day. May you not get sued.

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