July 7, 2004

Nine Couples and a Recently Widowed Man in a Same-Sex Relationship Highlight Discrimination of Maryland Marriage Laws

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

BALTIMORE - The American Civil Liberties Union today sued Maryland county clerks, charging that a state law denying same-sex couples the right to marry violates the Maryland Constitution.

""Lesbian and gay couples make the same commitments to each other and their children that straight couples do. Their families need and deserve the same protections,"" said David Rocah, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Maryland. ""Excluding lesbian and gay couples from marriage denies them and their children important safeguards and discriminates against families when they are most vulnerable.""

The lawsuit, filed in state court in Baltimore by the ACLU with the cooperation of Equality Maryland, charges that the law violates the state constitution's guarantees of equality.

""This case is about building and strengthening families,"" said Dan Furmansky, Executive Director of Equality Maryland. ""Maryland has said that it will not tolerate discrimination against lesbian and gay people. It's time for the state to live up to that promise and stop denying same-sex couples and their children the same protections and safeguards that straight couples and their children receive through marriage."

The Maryland filing today follows a string of lawsuits filed by the ACLU, its partners and affiliates on behalf of same-sex couples seeking marriage equality in New York, Oregon, California and Washington State.

The Maryland lawsuit was filed on behalf of nine same-sex couples and a man whose partner recently passed away who would like to be able to marry one day. They live throughout the state representing Baltimore, the Washington suburbs, the Eastern Shore, Western Maryland and Southern Maryland. They come from all walks of life, ranging from a former civil rights worker, a bus driver and a paramedic to a teacher, a dentist and a former police officer. Some have been together for decades, some are already raising children and one couple has a child on the way.

""When you hear the stories of the people involved in this lawsuit, it's obvious that lesbian and gay people in Maryland suffer real harms when their relationships aren't recognized,"" said Ken Choe, a staff attorney with ACLU's Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. ""The Maryland Constitution demands equal treatment, and that means equal treatment in marriage too.""

The parties bringing the lawsuit include:

John Lestitian was in a committed relationship with his partner Jim Bradley for nearly 13 years. Both practicing Catholics, the couples exchanged vows in a holy union ceremony in 1991.  Jim passed away unexpectedly in 2003. Unfortunately, Jim's will -- which  left Jim's property to John and appointed John as executor of Jim's estate -- lacked the signature of a second witness, making it invalid on a technicality. Without legal standing, John was forced into difficult negotiations with Jim's family over the burial arrangements. Without a valid will, John also lost the home in Western Maryland the couple shared because state inheritance laws failed to recognize their relationship. Had the couple been permitted to marry, the property would have passed automatically to John by law.

Donna Myers and Maria Barquero have known each other for nearly five years and have been a couple since 2002. When they met, Maria, a native of Costa Rica, was in the country legally on a work visa. Since only married couples are able to sponsor their spouses for immigration, Maria had to move back to Costa Rica when her visa expired in 2003. While the couple spends as much time together as legally possible, Donna had to abandon her career to accommodate the frequent travel between the two countries.Yet they are still forced to live much of the time apart. One day Donna would like to realize her dream of raising children with Maria on the family farm in Southern Maryland where Donna's sisters are building homes.

Alvin Williams and Nigel Simon, who live in Prince George's County, describe their meeting six 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. After adopting a six-year-old son, the couple would like to be able to marry in order to give their son the comfort and security that only comes with marriage.The happy fathers have plans to adopt a sibling pair, ages eight and six, in the near future.

Jodi Kelber-Kaye and Stacey Kargman-Kaye have been together 11 years and are now the proud parents of two boys, ages six and one.  Jodi and Stacey experienced the discrimination that results from the inability to marry when Stacey was hospitalized for a life-threatening emergency at a local Baltimore hospital, and Jodi was literally pushed out of Stacey's room, because the nurse refused to recognize her relationship to Stacey. In May 2003, when Jodi was giving birth to the couple's second son, they experienced similar treatment when Stacey, herself a doctor, was shut out of discussions about the medical treatment of their prematurely born child during a time when Jodi was unavailable immediately following the birth.

ACLU cooperating attorneys Andrew H. Baida and Caroline D. Ciraolo of the Baltimore law firm Rosenberg Martin Funk Greenber, LLP are part of the legal team representing the plaintiffs.

To learn about the plaintiffs in this case, visit /node/25217

To read a Q&A about this case, visit /node/23702

To read the complaint in this case, visit /node/36263

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