UPDATED (5:12 p.m.)—Same-sex marriages legally performed out of state must be recognized by Maryland Courts, according to a decision issued Friday by Maryland’s highest court.
“Maryland courts will withhold recognition of a valid foreign marriage only if that marriage is ‘repugnant’ to State public policy,” wrote Court of Appeals Judge Glenn Harrell Jr. in the 7-0 decision.
Legal experts and Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler said the decision has both immediate and long-term effects—even as the state moves toward a possible referendum on the recently passed law allowing same-sex marriage in the state.
Gansler, who in 2010 issued what he called “a forecast” opinion predicting the court would ultimately recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages, praised the court’s decision.
“This is the decision we thought they would render,” Gansler said. “The facts of the case show how logistically unworkable it would be to have ruled the other way.”
The Court of Appeals ruling stems from a 2010 divorce case filed in Prince Georges County.
Two women, Jessica Port and Virginia Cowan, were legally married in October 2008 in California. Eight months later, the couple separated and ultimately filed for divorce in July 2010.
The judge in that case ruled that recognizing “the alleged marriage would be contrary to the public policy of Maryland” and declared it not valid in the state.
Harrell noted that Anne Arundel and St. Mary’s counties granted divorces to same-sex couples married in states where such unions are legal.
“Putting aside for present purposes whatever may turn out to be the view of the Maryland electorate regarding recognition of the performance in Maryland of domestic same-sex marriages, the treatment given such relationships by the Maryland Legislature (until recently) may be characterized as a case of multiple personality disorder,” wrote Harrell, acknowledging the ongoing effort to place a recently passed same-sex marriage law on the ballot in November.
But the Court of Appeals ruled Friday that for a marriage to be valid in the state for the purposes of divorce, it “cannot be prohibited by statute or ‘repugnant’ to the public policies of Maryland. For the following reasons, Port’s and Cowan’s entitlement, on this record, to a Maryland divorce from their California same-sex marriage is not prohibited, as a matter of law and on this record, by these exceptions,” wrote Harrell.
“A valid out-of-state same-sex marriage should be treated by Maryland courts as worthy of divorce, according to the applicable statutes, reported cases, and court rules of this State,” wrote Harrell.
The Court of Appeals ordered the divorce case remanded back to the Prince George’s County Circuit Court.
Jana Singer, a law professor at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, said the ruling extends beyond divorce law in Maryland by providing other legal protections enjoyed by heterosexual to same-sex couples—healthcare, child custody and the right to not be compelled to testify against a spouse in criminal court.
Singer was one of more than four-dozen Maryland law professors who filed a court briefing in support of recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states. She added that the decision also means more uniformity in how those out-of-state marriages are recognized in courtrooms in the state.
“The Court of Appeals felt it was not fair or appropriate that people received different treatment based on which judge hears the case,” Singer said. “It’s not appropriate receive different treatment based on if you get Judge X in Anne Arundel County or Judge Y in Prince George’s County.”
The court decision comes as opponents of same-sex marriage are collecting signatures in an attempt to petition a recently passed law legalizing such unions in Maryland to the ballot in November.
Gansler said if the law was overturned by referendum that this ruling would still allow for the recognition of out-of-state same-sex marriages.
“It would have no effect whatsoever,” Gansler said. “They’re two completely different issues.”