Lambda Legal Urges Maryland Senate to Pass Marriage Equality Bill

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"Passing the marriage equality bill would ... allow same-sex couples to better protect their families."
February 8, 2011
Susan Sommer

"We urge the Legislature to end discrimination in marriage for same-sex couples and vote for marriage equality."

(New York, February 8, 2011)—Today Lambda Legal's Director of Constitutional Litigation, Susan Sommer, will testify before the Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee in support of Senate Bill 116, the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act, which would allow same-sex couples to marry.

During her testimony, Sommer will describe the experiences of three same-sex couples, Lambda Legal clients, whose out-of-state marriages should be recognized as a matter of Maryland law, but who still face challenges to receiving the full benefits and protections of marriage.

As in New York, Maryland law is well-settled that out-of-state marriages get legal recognition, even if they could not be entered within the state.

"Yet as our clients' experiences show, Maryland families married out-of-state still have to fight with employers to receive spousal health coverage or to be able to take bereavement leave," said Sommer. "It is a shame that Maryland same-sex couples have to leave home to get married. Worse yet, they remain vulnerable to discrimination from their employers when they return home. Passing the marriage equality bill would solve the confusion and allow same-sex couples to better protect their families."

Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, in a legal opinion issued February 23, 2010, summarized Maryland's longstanding law recognizing validly entered out-of-state marriages, including those of same-sex couples. But many same-sex couples with valid marriages, like Lambda Legal's clients, still face discrimination.

After marrying her partner of nearly two decades in Massachusetts, where same-sex couples may legally wed, Officer Margaret Selby asked her employer, the Baltimore County Police Department, to add her spouse, Colette Hayward, to her health care coverage, and to confirm Ms. Hayward's eligibility to receive other spousal protections. She was denied. Officer Juanika Ballard and her spouse, Monica Williams, have been together for over six years and married in Connecticut in 2009. When Officer Ballard requested spousal benefits, she also was refused. The county told both women the benefits were denied because their spouses are of the same sex.

"These officers have put their lives on the line for the county, and the county has paid them back by discriminating against their families," said Sommer.

Officer Selby is one of the most commended officers in the department. For three years running she has been named officer of the year in her area and has received awards for repeatedly putting herself in harm's way to shield others from danger. For example, Officer Selby stepped in and disarmed a distraught man preparing to shoot a social worker visiting his home. Officer Ballard too has given her all to her job. She was badly injured in the line of duty in 2009, when a drunk driver struck her patrol car, pinning her inside until she was cut free and airlifted with a broken back to the hospital. Ms. Williams was by her side through her long recuperation, but when Officer Ballard's father-in-law died recently, the department refused to give her spousal bereavement leave to be by Ms. Williams's side.

The Fraternal Order of Police, Officer Selby and Officer Ballard's union, is supporting them in their challenge to the county's denial of spousal protections for their families.

Stacy and Barbara Pipkin, who married in the District of Columbia and have recently adopted a baby together, are being told by Stacy's employer, the Ann Arundel County Public Schools, that she cannot have the same spousal health coverage other married employees receive in order to insure Barbara, who works with developmentally disabled adults.

"We urge the Legislature to end discrimination in marriage for same-sex couples and vote for marriage equality to make families like the Pipkins, the Selby-Haywards, and the Ballard-Williams that much stronger," Sommer said.

Susan Sommer is handling this matter for Lambda Legal with co-counsel Peter Brody of Ropes & Gray LLP.

Susan Sommer and Lambda Legal clients, Stacy and Barbara Pipkin, will be available for interviews after her testimony at the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee hearing today.

Read Susan Sommer's testimony.

Read Stacy Pipkin's testimony.