Gipson: ‘I have a solution’ for domestic violence, divorce issues

Published 11:03 am Friday, March 3, 2017

By Kayleigh Skinner

Mississippi Today

Facing some criticism for killing a bill making domestic violence a grounds for divorce, Rep. Andy Gipson said Thursday that he will offer a solution to the issue soon.

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“I am pleased to report I’ve been working with some of our attorneys here in the House and we have a very viable and very meaningful solution that was not addressed by the Senate bills that died in our committee last deadline day,” Gipson said after the House adjourned Thursday.

When asked what his solution was, Gipson, R-Braxton, would only say that he would announce it next week, but he did provide some hints.

“Based on my research, the problem is not what the law says but how judges are implementing the law,” Gipson said. “I think we have good laws on the books, but we don’t have a uniform application of those laws,” he said.

Earlier this week, Gipson killed Senate Bill 2703 by choosing not to take it up in the House Judiciary B Committee on a deadline day for it to pass the committee or die.

The bill would have made domestic violence the 13th ground for divorce in Mississippi. He also declined to take up a bill that would have made bona fide separation a grounds for divorce.

The attorney and Baptist pastor said he chose not to take up the bill because in Mississippi, a judge already has authority to grant a divorce on the basis of cruel and inhuman treatment.

He cited the Mississippi Supreme Court’s 1971 ruling in Ellzey v. Ellzey, where it was established that one incident of violence against a spouse can constitute habitual cruel and inhuman treatment, thus serving as grounds for a divorce.

Gipson’s reasoning received pushback from domestic violence advocates and others who argued it is difficult for a spouse to provide adequate proof of inhuman treatment and as a result, many spouses are never granted a divorce on that ground.

Gipson responded Wednesday in a Facebook post: “As I said in the February 28th committee meeting, the law already provides a clear way out of a marriage for victims of domestic abuse, without the need for another bill. To deny this reality is to ignore the current state of Mississippi law.”

His lengthy post, replete with citations of state Supreme Court rulings on grounds for divorce, also noted: “The Mississippi Supreme Court has also found that this basis for divorce applies to both physical and non-physical abuse. In fact, under current law it is not even necessary to produce evidence of physical abuse.”

His post, echoing comments he made to the committee when he declined to bring the bill up, concluded: “Divorce is a tragic event in the life of any couple. Sometimes it is necessary and/or unavoidable, and especially so in cases of domestic abuse. Victims of cruel and inhuman treatment should get out. But Mississippi doesn’t need another bill to say what the law already says.”

The Facebook post had drawn 48 comments by noon Thursday. Some thanked Gipson for explaining his position and expressed support. Some criticized him for the position he espoused while others raised questions about why he interjected his views and failed to allow his committee to vote on the bill.

On Thursday, Gipson stressed he hates domestic violence and has supported his county’s local domestic violence shelter, both personally and through his church.

“I have a record on this issue that is strong and that’s why I wanted to be very careful and make sure that we adopt the right solution rather than some (public relations) campaign,” he said.

The public and Legislature will likely have to wait a few days to learn more about his solution — the House is adjourned until 3 p.m. Monday.