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top court says no
Annapolis, Md.--A deeply divided Maryland Supreme Court has upheld the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, rebuffing attempts to overturn the measure and make Maryland the second state to allow full marriage to gay and lesbian couples.
The September 18 ruling overturns a January decision by Baltimore Circuit Court Judge M. Brooke Murdock, who said that the law violated the state constitution but stayed his ruling in anticipation of appeals.
The court stood at 4-3 in favor of upholding the 1973 law defining marriage as an opposite-sex institution. Judge Glenn T. Harrell Jr. wrote the majority opinion, saying that the law does not deny fundamental rights or discriminate on the basis of gender, and that the state has a legitimate interest in promoting “traditional” marriage.
Since it is based on the state constitution, the case cannot be appealed beyond the state supreme court.
Chief Judge Robert M. Bell’s dissent likened the law to ones against interracial marriage, which survived until 1967.
“Many of the arguments made in support of the anti-miscegenation laws were identical to those made today in opposition to same-sex marriage,” he wrote. “Their goal is to restrict the right of an individual to marry the person of his or her choice.”
Harrell’s opinion said that the legislature “has not acted wholly unreasonably in granting recognition to the only relationship capable of bearing children traditionally within the marital unit.”
However, a number of the couples in the lawsuit are raising children.
“I feel like this decision was needlessly cruel to lesbian and gay families,” said Lisa Polyak, one of the plaintiffs. “I wish that those judges would have to face my children today, because I have to.”
“We’re deeply disappointed in the court’s ruling,” said plaintiff Lisa Kebreau, who has three children with her partner. “The court decided that we are undeserving of the family protections given to married couples simply because we’re partners of the same sex.”
“That’s simply not right,” she noted, adding, “We aren’t giving up. We’ll continue to fight for marriage in the legislature.”
American Civil Liberties Union LGBT Project staff attorney Ken Choe, who argued the case, said, “We’re hopeful that, unlike the court, the legislature will see that lesbian and gay Marylanders shouldn’t be barred from the hundreds of important protections that come with marriage simply because the person whom they love is a person of the same sex.”
Harrell underlined that possibility in his ruling.
“Our opinion should by no means be read to imply that the General Assembly may not grant and recognize for homosexual persons civil unions or the right to marry a person of the same sex,” he wrote.
State Sen. Richard Madaleno, who is gay, unveiled plans to introduce a bill allowing full same-sex marriage, while Gov. Martin O’Malley has indicated his support for civil unions legislation.
On the other side of the aisle, perennial right-wing gadfly Delegate Don Dwyer said that he will reintroduce a state constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage. Every earlier attempt by Dwyer to push such an amendment has met with defeat.
Three other marriage rulings coming
Massachusetts is the only state that presently allows full same-sex marriage, following a 2003 state high court ruling. The nations of Canada, Belgium, Spain, South Africa and the Netherlands also do.
Last year, supreme courts in New York and Washington ruled against same-sex marriage. New Jersey’s top court said that gay and lesbian couples are entitled to all the benefits and protections of marriage, but not necessarily the word itself.
The New Jersey legislature then passed a law allowing civil unions, as have Vermont, Connecticut, New Hampshire and California, which calls them “domestic partnerships.” A similar Oregon measure may be challenged by a referendum. Washington, Maine, Hawaii and the District of Columbia have more limited partnership laws.
Two more state supreme courts, California and Connecticut, still have same-sex marriage cases before them.
Oral arguments were heard in May for the Connecticut case, and a ruling is expected at any time.
The California high court is expected to hear arguments late this year or early in 2008. The state’s legislature passed a bill this month allowing full same-sex marriage but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said he will veto it, as he did with a similar measure two years ago.
Last month, a trial court in Iowa ruled in favor of same-sex marriage. The next day, the judge stayed his ruling pending appeal to the state supreme court. Before he did, however, one gay male couple got married.