By David Salter | Article Date: 7/10/2009 12:00 AM
Last weekend, as the curtain fell on the international tennis season's most glamorous and famous event—Wimbledon—the focus of both the tennis andgay communities switched to one of the sport's (and the gay rights movement's) biggest all-time stars: Martina Navratilova. Navratilova is an iconic figure, whether she's battling Chris Evert on the tennis court or battling anti-gay legislation in a court of law. Now, the pioneer is embroiled in her second highprofile and reportedly nasty separation from a long-time partner—and her legal approach has manygay marriage activists fuming.
Navratilova was sued last week by Toni Layton, with whom the tennis star had a serious and public eight-year relationship that included a private commitment ceremony. That ended with Navratilova having Layton forcibly removed from one of the four multimillion dollar properties the two reportedly shared. Layton is not only suing under domestic partnership law in the state of Florida, which was one of several states besides California that also passed a ballot measure to bangay marriage last November, but her lawyer has also threatened to release "many dark secrets from Navratilova's past and present life.”
To onlookers, the entire situation in unmistakably reminiscent of Navratilova's first highly publicized conflict with a former partner. In 1991, ten years after Navratilova came out as a lesbian (just as her fame and power on the court were in full climb), ex-lover Judy Nelson sued the multimillionaire tennis champion for $7.5 million, using videotapes from two “wedding ceremonies” the two had undergone. Layton, who arguably has the benefit of a cultural climate more accustomed to—if hardly generally accepting of—the concept of same-sex marriage, makes a similar claim to what she says is the half of the couple's property they had acquired while together.
Where the plaintiff's arguments seem more than similar, so too is Navratilova's defense to her prior one, which is the source of marriage advocates' ire.
In 1991 another former girlfriend Rita Mae Brown reported that Navratilova was arguing that she and Nelson had, in Brown's words, a “contract for sex” that “therefore was against public policy.” The two settled out of court for a rumored $3 million. That Navratilova and her legal team are again arguing that her relationship with Nelson was neither a legal marriage—a certifiable truth—but nor did it merit being considered as such.