A bill that would have allowed divorce on the grounds of domestic abuse in Mississippi was killed by Republican state Rep. Andy Gipson on Feb. 28.
"Given our high divorce rate in this state, the floodgate is already open -- we don't need to completely tear it down," said Gipson, who chairs the state's House Judiciary B Committee, reports The Clarion- Ledger.
"We need to have policies that strengthen marriage. If a person is abusive, they need to have a change in behavior and change of heart," added Gipson, who is also Baptist preacher, reports Mississippi Today.
While domestic abuse victims wait for that change of heart, the state will allow divorce for adultery, natural impotency, drunkenness, drug use, or habitual cruel and inhuman treatment, notes The Clarion- Ledger.
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Low-income residents, including those who have suffered from domestic violence, can have a hard time navigating through Mississippi's expensive and complicated divorce laws.
Like South Dakota, Mississippi does not have "no-fault" divorce where one person can just end it. Both spouses have to agree on divorce, which can drag out the process for years. All other states now have no-fault clauses in their divorce laws.
Republican state Sen. Sally Doty, who wrote the bill that would have added domestic abuse to the "habitual cruel and inhuman treatment" existing grounds for divorce, expressed her disappointment:
I am very disappointed with the action of the House committee today, that they didn't even take them out of committee. The chairman [Gipson] offered some excuses, but I think the fact remains the domestic violence bill passed the House last year ... with a very strong vote.
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It's disappointing to me, and I'm sure it's even more disappointing to those victims of domestic violence who are out there in the state of Mississippi that need some help getting out of a marriage.
Gipson countered: "The law already provides a ground for divorce for habitual cruel and inhuman treatment, which would include domestic assault."
"Habitual" means a spouse would have to be beaten more than once. According to some experts, if abused spouses leave their homes, but then return, the victims can be seen by the court as having "condoned" the violence perpetrated against them.
Back at the state capitol, Gipson didn't like the phrase "domestic abuse," which he thought could apply to shouting:
To me the way it's worded could possibly be interpreted that if someone raised their voice at their spouse, is that domestic assault? ... If that's the case, then a lot of people would have a ground for divorce in Mississippi.
While Gipson has strongly voiced his desire to keep heterosexuals in marriages, he has opposed same-sex marriage.
The Clarion-Ledger reported that when a federal court struck down the state's ban on same-sex marriage in 2014, Gipson wanted the state to appeal:
I'm very disappointed the court did not recognize the clear will of Mississippians as expressed in our state's Constitution. The state should quickly appeal to the Fifth Circuit and request the higher court to reverse this decision and uphold the Constitution.