Maryland's Top Court: Same-Sex Couples Can Divorce

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May 18, 2012

Maryland's highest court ruled today that married same-sex couples are entitled to divorce under Maryland law.

In a unanimous decision, the Court of Appeals granted a divorce to Virginia Cowan and Jessica Port, a couple represented by Lambda Legal and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) who married out of state.

Susan Sommer, Lambda Legal's Director of Constitutional Litigation, says:

The high court of Maryland confirmed today in this divorce case that out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples are entitled to legal recognition under longstanding principles of comity, allowing this couple the same access to a divorce as other married couples whose relationships have ended. The Court of Appeals' ruling establishes that Maryland law respects marriages of same-sex couples entered elsewhere, bringing clarity to the legal recognition due these marriages.

Port and Cowan married in San Francisco in 2008, but unfortunately, their relationship broke down. In July 2010, after they had been separated for a year, Cowan filed a petition for divorce. The trial court found that although the couple met all the requirements for divorce under Maryland law and both wished to divorce, it would not grant a divorce because, according to the court, it would be against public policy to do so. In April 2012, the Maryland Court of Appeals heard argument from NCLR, on Port's behalf, and Lambda Legal, on Cowan's behalf.

Earlier this year, the Maryland legislature passed a law permitting same-sex couples to marry. That legislation is scheduled to go into effect January 1, 2013, subject to the outcome of a possible referendum. The Court of Appeals ruled that, regardless of whether same-sex couples are allowed to marry in Maryland, independent legal principles require out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples to be respected in the state.