ACLU and Lambda Legal Laud Ruling in Support of Same-Sex Spouse's Right to Equal Treatment
(Baltimore, MD, June 23, 2011) - The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland and Lambda Legal hailed a ruling by the Washington County Circuit Court recognizing that Maryland's law protecting persons from being forced to testify in court against their spouse applies equally to same-sex spouses validly married outside of Maryland. The ruling sends a strong message that legally married same-sex couples are entitled to recognition of their marriages under Maryland law.
The issue arose in a criminal case involving a same-sex couple who had married in Washington, DC on August 11, 2010. Charges were brought against one of the women alleging a domestic incident on December 10, 2010. When the case was called for trial on April 25, 2011, the witness spouse invoked her right under state law to refuse to testify against her spouse. The State's Attorney did not dispute that the couple was validly married in Washington, DC. Although the applicability of the privilege should thus have been clear, the State's Attorney contested its applicability, arguing that because Maryland does not allow same-sex couples to marry here, the women are not "spouses" within the meaning of the statute.
In a joint legal brief, the ACLU and Lambda Legal highlighted for the court a 2010 legal opinion by Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler stating that marriages of same-sex couples validly entered into in other jurisdictions are entitled to be honored here at home. The AG opinion relied on longstanding legal precedent that says couples who have been legally married in another state are treated under Maryland law as validly married, even if that marriage could not be performed in the State of Maryland. The organizations also pointed out that Governor Martin O'Malley has confirmed that the State respects out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples. The judge agreed that the Attorney General's opinion is "persuasive, thorough, and solid."
The following can be attributed to David Rocah, Staff Attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland:
"Today's ruling reinforces that legally married same-sex couples should have the same legal protections under state law as any other married couple. The issue considered by the court, spousal privilege, is a time-honored protection for legally married couples that reinforces the importance and the privacy of all married relationships."
The following can be attributed to Susan Sommer, Director of Constitutional Litigation at Lambda Legal, who argued the case in court today:
"Long-standing Maryland law recognizes a valid marriage even if it had not been entered in Maryland. The court's ruling treats this couple like any other married Maryland couple and should guide the way for other Maryland courts."
Contact: Jonathan Adams 212-809-8585 ext 267; [email protected]
Contact: Meredith Curtis, ACLU of Maryland, (410) 889-8550 x115; [email protected]
Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.