Maryland Court Says State Cannot Bar Same-Sex Couples from Marriage Protections

January 20, 2006
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: media@aclu.org

BALTIMORE - A Maryland circuit court ruled today that it is a violation of the state constitution to deny same-sex couples the numerous protections provided to married couples.  The American Civil Liberties Union and Equality Maryland hail the decision as an historic step toward the ability of same-sex couples to legally marry in the state. 

“This is such an exciting moment,” said Lisa Polyak, who with her partner, Gita Deane, is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed by the ACLU.  “Our participation in this lawsuit has always been about family protections for our children.  Tonight, we will rest a little easier knowing that those protections are within reach.” 

Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Brooke Murdock found that denying same-sex couples the ability to marry violates the state constitution’s Equal Rights Amendment, which protects against discrimination based on sex.  She also found that there is not even a rational basis for denying same-sex couples the ability to marry.

The court ruled, “When tradition is the guise under which prejudice or animosity hides, it is not a legitimate state interest.”   The opinion further noted, “The Court is not unaware of the dramatic impact of its ruling, but it must not shy away from deciding significant legal issues when fairly presented to it for judicial determination.  As others assessing the constitutionality of preventing same-sex marriage note, justifying the continued application of a classification through its past application is ‘circular reasoning, not analysis,’ and that it is not persuasive.” 

“Same-sex couples need the same protections for their families that opposite-sex couples do,” said Ken Choe, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Lesbian and Gay Rights Project, who argued the case.  “The court was right to conclude that preventing same-sex couples from marrying is sex discrimination.  The only reason Lisa Polyak can’t marry her partner of 24 years, Gita Deane, is because she is another woman and not a man, which as the court recognized, is unconstitutional.” 

Dan Furmansky, Executive Director of Equality Maryland, the advocacy group for LGBT Marylanders, added, “This is truly an historic moment for the State of Maryland.  Same-sex couples across the state just came a giant step closer to the day when they won’t have to worry that life partners will be ignored in discussions about emergency medical care, or about the hurt and confusion their children feel when forced to explain why their parents can’t marry.”  

The ACLU filed the lawsuit on July 7, 2004, in partnership with Equality Maryland, on behalf of nine same-sex couples and a surviving gay partner, charging that it is a violation of state constitution to deny same-sex couples the ability to marry and the many family protections that come with marriage.  The case was argued before Judge Murdock on August 30, 2005.

More than 100 religious leaders from across the state signed onto a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the right of lesbian and gay people to marry.  State civil rights organizations and one of the state’s leading child welfare organizations also filed briefs supporting marriage for same-sex couples.

Additional plaintiffs involved in the lawsuit include:

  • Mikki Mozelle and Lisa Kebreau have been together for nearly 5 years and are the proud mothers to a one-year-old son and a newborn daughter.  The couple, which is also raising Kebreau’s 16-year-old son from a former relationship, need the protections of marriage for their family. 

  • Charles Blackburn and Glen Dehn have been together for more than 27 years.  As senior citizens (Blackburn is 73, and Dehn is 68), they are facing all the end-of-life issues that older couples face, but without the many safeguards that the state provides married couples.  Blackburn, who was active in the African American civil rights movement in the 1960s and was even jailed for his efforts, is proud to be at the forefront of an effort to provide stability and security to all Maryland families.  

  • Donna Myers and Maria Barquero have been together for six years but are forced to live apart because Barquero is a native of Costa Rica and Myers is unable to sponsor her for immigration purposes because the federal government doesn’t recognize same-sex relationships.

  • Patrick Wojahn and Dave Kolesar have been together for six years and recently celebrated their relationship through a commitment ceremony.  In 1996, Kolesar suffered a rare sinus infection that spread to his brain.  As the first known survivor of this uncommon condition, doctors have warned him that there may be complications later in life.  Without marriage protections, the couple worry that hospitals will ignore Wojahn in discussions about any emergency care that Kolesar may require. 

The state is expected to appeal today’s decision. Maryland’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, will almost certainly have the ultimate say over the issue. The case will likely continue for well over a year, perhaps much longer. 

In addition to Choe, the legal team includes David Rocah, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Maryland, Art Spitzer, Legal Director of the ACLU of the National Capital Area, and Andrew H. Baida and Caroline D. Ciraolo of the Baltimore law firm Rosenberg Martin Funk Greenberg, LLP.

Biographical information on all of the plaintiffs, the legal documents, and other background materials, including a set of FAQs about Deane and Polyak v. Conaway, are available at www.aclu.org/caseprofiles, www.aclu-md.org and www.equalitymaryland.org

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