Faces of Justice Denied - Gita Deane and Lisa Polyak

Document Date: December 10, 2010

Gita Deane and Lisa Polyak, a lesbian couple excluded from marriage protections because of Maryland court decision

Gita and Lisa live in Maryland and have been together for nearly three decades. They are raising two daughters. Lisa is the birth mother of their elder daughter and Gita is the birth mother of their younger child.

Gita and Lisa met their freshman year at Trinity College in Washington, D.C. As a citizen of India, Gita was in the United States on a student visa. When they fell in love and wanted to build a life together, it was apparent immigration laws would force them apart. Had Lisa and Gita been recognized as spouses, they could easily have remained together. Because they couldn’t marry, the couple embarked on a years-long odyssey to establish residency for Gita. There were many anxious moments—like a deportation notice and a tearful goodbye at JFK airport—when the distraught couple did not know if Gita would ever be able to return to the United States. Fortunately, Gita received a work sponsorship and was granted full U.S. citizenship in 1994. But Gita and Lisa want marriage rights to further protect their relationship and children from other harms, and to ensure that no loving couple will have to be torn apart because of political borders.

In August 2005, the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of Gita and Lisa and eight other same-sex couples and a man whose partner recently passed away and would like to be able to marry a same-sex partner one day. The lawsuit charges that a state law denying same-sex couples the right to marry violates the Maryland Constitution. The Maryland Court of Appeals ruled against the plaintiffs in September 2007, upholding the state law that bars same-sex couples from marrying and accessing the hundreds of family protections provided to married couples and their children under state law.

The majority opinion rejects the ACLU’s arguments that barring same-sex couples from marriage is sex discrimination. While the court agreed that marriage is a fundamental right, it ruled there is no fundamental right to marry someone of the same sex. The court also ruled that laws discriminating against gay people are not subject to stringent judicial review, thereby denying lesbian, gay, and bisexual people access to justice with regard to significant protections at the core of family life for most people.