With the joy that came with same-sex weddings, there is a group of gay men who have been overlooked – those who are unable to marry because they are already heterosexually married.

From the late 1980s, many men moved to committed long-term same-sex relationships while secretly remaining married.

Gay and bi men left what was often a bitter and divisive heterosexual marriage and moved into a living arrangement with a new male partner – and often with very little in the way of financial or material support from that marriage. It was frequently easier and expedient to simply get out of the messy situation, taking barely more than what they stood up in than to stand and fight through a divorce where the wife threatened to take him for everything. In the following years, he had little or no further contact with her.

As Anthony said, “Nothing was ever going to change her bigoted attitude towards me, so best let sleeping dogs lie.” This hostility and bitterness meant that neither party wanted to revisit the idea of divorce and the financial and other impacts that could lead to. Animosity could be so severe that sometimes he had no idea where his wife lived – and didn’t care to find out.

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 These same-sex relationships are often long term – 10, 20, 30 years – where the married man has re-made his life financially, emotionally, and physically. As these gay men grow older, they are faced with the emptiness of knowing that marrying their male partner is no longer an option yet the security and continuity of the partnership is strongly desired. Hence they can only ensure financial and welfare security for themselves by making sure the legality of wills, advance care directives, and powers of attorney are decisively in place.

Perhaps we need a new and simpler additional divorce law, where a single stroke of the pen would allow any heterosexual marriage to be annulled if the husband and wife had not lived together for say, 20 years. Only one party would need to apply to activate the annulment. As both parties would have re-made their own financial lives over such an extended period, no assets need to change hands with the decree being a no-fault, no-blame one.

The result – the legal impediment of a pre-existing marriage removed at little expense, without the two parties meeting and with as little emotion and as much dignity as possible.

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