Maryland activists welcome decision to recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages

by Matthew E. Pilecki

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday March 3, 2010

On the heels of Equality Maryland's annual Lobby Day in Annapolis, Attorney General Douglas Gansler opined the Free State should recognize marriages of same-sex couples performed out-of-state.

The opinion came after state Sen. Richard Madeleno, Jr., [D-Montgomery] approached Gansler last May and asked whether the state could recognize these marriages. In a 45-page document, Gansler concluded, "the answer to that question is clearly 'yes.'" State agencies will now be required to extend all the benefits heterosexual couples enjoy to married same-sex couples. The details of what those benefits will include, however, have yet to be announced.

Morgan Meneses-Sheets, executive director of Equality Maryland, considers the long-awaited opinion a monumental victory for LGBT Marylanders, but she realizes the results of Gansler's decision will not be seen immediately.

"With the implementation of any policy or regulatory change, it takes time," Meneses-Sheets told EDGE. "State agencies need to act in accord with the opinion and the law by reviewing their practices and regulations to see what changes are necessary to act in compliance by honoring valid, out of state licenses. In honoring these legal marriages between same-sex couples from other states and jurisdictions, Maryland will ensure that thousands of Maryland families-many with children-will be protected. This is the correct result-hardworking Maryland families should be protected."

Moments after Gansler released his proclamation, Equality Maryland organized a celebratory rally in Baltimore, but detractors just as quickly expressed their opposition. Delegate Emmett Burns, Jr., [D-Baltimore] described Gansler's decision "a big mistake." He introduced a bill last month that would have barred the recognition of same-sex marriages in the state-the House Judiciary Committee swiftly rejected it.

Delegate Don Dwyer, Jr., [R-Anne Arundel] announced he had begun procedures to impeach Gansler saying he made a preemptive decision without consulting the authority of the General Assembly. Meneses-Sheets told EDGE she believes the threats are a baseless attack to gain publicity during an election year.

"Dwyer is the lead sponsor on the constitutional amendment to ban marriage between same-sex couples-this seems like a desperate move to gain attention," she said. "Dwyer claims that the [Gansler] circumvented the legislature, but this is patently false. The Attorney General's job is to interpret existing Maryland law and advise regarding the application of existing Maryland law. Here, [Gansler] has done his job."

While the announcement extends benefits for same-sex couples that are state employees, private companies are not at this time required to offer benefits beyond heterosexual married couples.

The state Senate will hear two combating bills this week that could potentially affect all gay and lesbian couples in the state. Senate Bill 582 would legalize nuptials for same-sex couples in Maryland, but SB 852, which state Sen. Norman Stone, Jr., [D-Baltimore] introduced, would define marriage as a union between one man and woman. Stone's bill would also bar the state from recognizing marriages of gays and lesbians legally performed outside Maryland.

"Senator Stone said that he believes that if people strongly believe in same-sex marriages, they should go live in those states that allow it," Meneses-Sheets said. "We are not going anywhere. We are going to keep up the fight at the hearings this week, into the elections this fall, until we achieve full equality."

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