Monday, June 1, 2009

Maryland Attorney General to Give Opinion on Marriage Equality

In an earlier post, Unite the Fight reported that Maryland law may not necessarily recognize same-sex marriages performed in its borders, but may allow recognition of same-sex marriages in other states. I, among many others, asked readers to contact Gov. O'Malley to request Maryland's attorney general to report on what the law actually states.

Good news. Openly gay Sen. Richard S. Madaleno requested the Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler's opinion. "You can't understate the significance of being married," he said. "People in our state get married every day, and to be denied the ability to do that is very dispiriting."

AG Gansler, a vocal supporter for marriage equality, is putting together his opinion in the next few weeks on what Maryland law says about recognizing legally same-sex married couples from other states, a move that could open an avenue for legal recognition of gay and lesbian couples who have been rebuffed by the courts and legislature there.

However, this puts Gansler in a difficult position because that law clearly states that marriage is between a man and a woman, but the state also adheres to a long-standing legal principle that generally acknowledges couples married elsewhere.

"In some ways, this could be a back door toward marriage equality," said Del. Heather R. Mizeur to the Baltimore Sun, a Montgomery County Democrat who obtained a marriage license with her wife, Deborah, last year in California. "I hold out hope for the day that it's part of our everyday culture here in Maryland, and it's no big deal."

In Maryland, gay-marriage proposals have remained bottled up in committee. While a legalization bill is expected to have a high-profile sponsor next year in Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chairman Brian E. Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat, the panel's makeup is expected to remain the same, so another deadlock is likely.

From the Baltimore Sun:
Many states are likely to wrestle with how to address same-sex couples married outside their borders, said Cynthia Callahan, chairwoman of family and juvenile law at the Maryland State Bar Association.

"This is a decision that has many implications," she said. "If marriages were legal where they happened, the question is shouldn't Maryland honor that? The problem, of course, is that this is so politically charged."

The state attorney general's office has periodically weighed in on the question of gay marriages from other states, through advice letters to lawmakers who have inquired about the issue.

Robert A. Zarnoch, a former assistant attorney general, wrote that Maryland law would prohibit the recognition of same-sex unions validly entered in another state. But he also found that the law in this area is far from clear or settled. For instance, he noted that the state honors common-law marriages from other states even though such unions can't be legally entered into here.

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