Maryland Attorney General Announces Recognition of Same-Sex Marriages Performed Out-of-State

As reported in an excellent article by Aaron C. Davis and John Wager for the Washington Post on Thursday, February 5, 2010, Maryland’s Attorney General Douglas Gansler declared in a 50-page opinion that Maryland would recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions.
Gansler’s opinion directs all state agencies immediately to begin providing all married same-sex couples the same rights, benefits, and services which it provides on a daily basis throughout the state of Maryland to opposite-sex couples.

Republicans, socially conservative Democrats and several African American lawmakers from Prince George’s County to Baltimore blasted the decision. One Republican lawmaker vowed to bring articles of impeachment against Gansler for trying to usurp Maryland law, which defines marriage within the state as between a man and a woman. The Roman Catholic archbishops of Washington and Baltimore and the bishop of Wilmington said in a statement that they take “strong exception” to the decision.

The exact practical implications of Gansler’s decision were unclear. David Rocah, a staff lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, said he thought that the opinion could have “hundreds, if not thousands,” of implications for same-sex couples married elsewhere. Rocah said the opinion could ensure same-sex spouses’ rights to health benefits, inheritances, child support and even divorce.

Gansler said state laws have more than 1,000 references to spouses or marriage, and the opinion goes on to state that:

the starting principle in state law is that a marriage that is valid in the place of celebration remains valid in Maryland. And even though the state narrowly defines marriages performed within its borders as between a man and a woman, Gansler says, such restrictions don’t amount to a strong public policy argument that would override recognizing unions from elsewhere.

In recognizing same-sex marriages validly performed in other jurisdictions, Maryland joins the states of California and New York (and perhaps Washington D.C. as of next week) in that, although they refuse to perform same-sex marriages, they will recognize valid same-sex marriages performed in other states or countries.

Thus far, only the states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Iowa recognize full marriage equality.  Of note, the federal government does not recognize same-sex relationships of any kind, regardless of any state law.

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