December 4, 2006

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: media@aclu.org

ANNAPOLIS, MD – A group of same-sex couples and a gay widower appeared before Maryland’s highest court today to urge the court to strike down a state law that bars same-sex couples from marriage and the hundreds of family protections provided to married couples and their children. The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Maryland brought the legal challenge in cooperation with Equality Maryland arguing that Maryland law barring same-sex couples from marriage and its many family protections violates the state constitution. 

“We’ve been waiting for our day in court for a long time,” said Lisa Polyak, who appeared in court with her partner of 25 years, Gita Deane, and their pastor the Reverend Andrew Foster Connors of Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church in Baltimore.  “We are hopeful that the court will recognize how unfair it is that our family is denied the security and stability of marriage.”  Polyak and Deane are raising two daughters, ages seven and ten. 

A lower court in Baltimore sided with the plaintiffs, ruling that the ban on marriage by same-sex couples violates the state constitution’s Equal Rights Amendment, which protects against sex discrimination.  The state appealed the case, which was heard today by the Maryland Court of Appeals.  

“Lesbian and gay couples, who form loving and committed relationships, and who raise children, need and deserve the critical protections that come with marriage,” said Ken Choe, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project who argued the case before the court.  “We’re optimistic that the Court of Appeals will recognize that this unfairness is wholly inconsistent with the equality and liberty guaranteed to all Marylanders by the Maryland Constitution.” 

“The brave men and women at the heart of this case have helped to show their fellow Marylanders the very real harms that result when the state treats committed couples as legal strangers,” added Dan Furmansky, Executive Director of Equality Maryland.  “They are but a fraction of the lesbian and gay Marylanders throughout the state who need the dignity, respect and legal protections to care for their families through the most difficult times in life.” 

Among the couples who were present for the arguments were:

Alvin Williams and Nigel Simon, who live in Prince George’s County, describe their meeting eight years ago at a discussion group for black gay men as “love at first sight.” Both active Baptists, the couple exchanged vows at a holy union ceremony in July 2000.  The adoptive parents of three former foster children (two boys and a girl), the couple would like to be able to marry in order to give their children the comfort and security that come only with marriage.

Takia Foskey and Jo Rabb have been together for three years.  Rabb is a bus driver for the state.  Their romance began after Rabb showed kindness to Foskey’s children when Foskey was struggling to get them on the bus.  Although they are now raising the children as a family, Rabb cannot enroll Foskey or the children in the state health plan.  For a while, Foskey and her children were forced to go without insurance.  Although her new employer provides insurance for her and her children, the coverage is inferior to the coverage Rabb receives from the state.  In 2003, Rabb had an emergency gallbladder operation at a Baltimore hospital, and Foskey was barred from seeing Rabb or receiving any information about Rabb's condition.

Charles Blackburn and Glen Dehn of Baltimore are senior citizens who have been together for more than 28 years.  Ordained a Unitarian minister in 1962, Blackburn was heavily involved in the civil rights movement in Alabama in the mid-1960s.  Dehn worked for 31 years as a legislative planner and analyst for the U.S. Social Security Administration.  As a retired federal employee, Dehn has excellent health benefits and coverage that he cannot share with Blackburn.  Now that Blackburn is in his 70's, he wonders what will happen if he becomes ill and the protections of marriage are not available to him and Dehn.

“Marriage is about two people promising to be there for each other and their children in the good times and the hard times,” said David Rocah, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Maryland.  “The state gives hundreds of family protections through marriage to help committed couples get though the hard times.  We hope the court recognized today that that same-sex couples need those protections just like straight couples.” 

It is unknown when the court will issue its ruling. 

In addition to Choe and Rocah, the legal team includes 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 FAQ’s 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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