Lambda Legal Celebrates Senate Vote and Urges Maryland House to Pass Marriage Equality Bill

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"The Maryland Senate has set the right path by voting for marriage equality. Now we call on the House to do the same."
February 25, 2011
Susan Sommer

"It is a shame that Maryland same-sex couples have to leave home to get married. Passing the marriage equality bill would allow same-sex couples to better protect their families."

(New York, February 25, 2011)- Today, on the heels of the Senate passage of the Civil Marriage Protection Act, Lambda Legal attorney Susan Sommer will testify before the Maryland House Judiciary Committee in support of the bill, which would allow same-sex couples to marry within the state.

During her testimony, Sommer will introduce the stories of three same-sex couples who, even though married out of state, still face challenges to receiving the full benefits and protections of marriage. She will also address legal issues that have been raised in the debate over this Act.

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.

"Under Maryland law recognizing out-of-state marriages, our clients Officer Selby and Officer Ballard both have legal spouses. But they still have to fight with their employer, Baltimore County, to receive spousal health coverage or to be able to take bereavement leave," said Sommer. "Thanks to efforts by Equality Maryland and its members we are one step closer to marriage equality. The Maryland Senate has set the right path by voting for marriage equality. Now we call on the House to do the same. 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 allow same-sex couples to better protect their families."

"Furthermore, marriage for same-sex couples also opens the door to the myriad federal protections provided to spouses. With the Defense of Marriage Act disavowed as unconstitutional by the Obama Administration and declared unconstitutional by courts its days are numbered. It is just plain good state policy for Maryland with its many federal employee residents, to ensure that same-sex couples can access federal benefits through marriage," Sommer added.

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 people of Maryland, and they are being paid back with discrimination against their families," said Sommer.

Officer Selby is one of the most commended officers in the Department. For three years 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.

"Every day I'm proud to fulfill my duty as a Baltimore County Police Officer, but Maryland is not allowing me to fulfill my duty to my family," said Officer Juanika Ballard.

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-Williamses 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, Juanika Ballard and her wife Monica Williams and Margaret Selby and her wife Colette Hayward, will be available for interviews after testimony at the House Judicial Proceedings Committee hearing today.

Read Susan L. Sommer's testimony here

Read Officer Juanika Ballard's testimony here

Read Colette Hayward's testimony here