Thursday, February 25, 2010

'A Good First Step'

AG issues opinion that Md. may recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages.

By Steve Charing

After 9 months of anticipation, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (pictured) issued an opinion on February 24 that says that Maryland may recognize the valid marriages of same-sex couples performed in other states or foreign countries. Senator Richard Madaleno (D-Montgmery) had requested the opinion last May.

"The Attorney General's opinion simply states that Maryland law recognizes marriages of couples who married out of state, pursuant to Maryland comity law," Madaleno said. "While this is welcome news for those couples who were legally married in one of the growing number of states with equality in marriage, nothing in the Attorney General’s opinion changes the fact that same-sex couples cannot obtain marriage licenses in Maryland."

Madaleno added, "This important opinion is consistent with the long-standing tradition of legal recognition of valid marriages entered into in other states. And it is a positive development that will mean greater security, stability and peace of mind for legally married same-sex spouses whose marriages should rightfully be honored here at home."

Morgan Maneses-Sheets, the executive director of Equality Maryland, explained that the opinion is a positive development and provides "momentum for full marriage equality in Maryland."

“The Attorney General’s opinion is also consistent with Maryland’s public policy, which has steadily supported increasing legal protections for same-sex couples and their families," Meneses-Sheets said in a statement. "In recent years, the legislature has granted approximately 15 protections of legal marriage to same-gender couples in the areas of medical decision-making and inheritance."

Elbridge James, director of the Maryland Black Families Alliance, an organization consisting largely of straight African-Americans allies, hailed the opinion as "a good, solid first step" in the overall effort to achieve full marriage equality in Maryland.

Questions arose as to how the opinion will be implemented and if it could survive a legal challenge by opponents.

"The opinion is very important, well-reasoned and comprehensive that out-of-state [same-sex] couples are entitled to respect," said David Rocah, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, during a teleconference call with the media. He explained it should successfully withstand a potential challenge in the Maryland Court of Appeals.

Rocah indicated that the implementation of the policy throughout the state may take time in some instances and in others it may be simpler. "As chief legal officer for the state, executive agencies rely on [Gansler] for advice."

Governor Martin O’Malley issued a statement following the release of the opinion. “I want to thank Attorney General Gansler for his hard work and thoughtful consideration. Having reviewed the 45-page opinion, we will be guided by the Attorney General’s thorough analysis and legal advice on this matter.

"I am confident that the Attorney General and his office will provide all necessary advice to State agencies on how to comply with the law, and I expect all State agencies to work with the Attorney General’s office to ensure compliance with the law.”

Maneses-Sheets was on a whirlwind mission Wednesday to publicly tout the opinion on TV, radio, and to the print media. She also organized the teleconference call and spoke at a rally later that evening.

At the rally about 50 gathered in front of the First Unitarian Church in downtown Baltimore to hear speakers applaud the opinion and assure the crowd that full marriage equality in Maryland is the ultimate goal. A serenade of honking horns from passing motorists in support of the rally's participants was heard throughout.

That venue was ironically the site of a rally in September 2007 under sadder circumstances. It followed the Maryland Court of Appeals' upholding Maryland state law that bans same-sex couples from marrying.

Opponents of the opinion have already mobilized. A bill that would prevent a pro-marriage recognition opinion from being implemented in Maryland was defeated in a House committee in early February. But the Senate version is still in play. And long-time lgbt nemesis Donald Dwyer (R-Anne Arundel) has filed impeachment papers against Gansler.

Another foe of marriage equality Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller emphasized to the media that the opinion does not mean that "gay marriage" would take place in Maryland, and "will not anytime soon."