Gains for same-sex couples

March 1, 2010, 7:32 a.m. | By Lauren Kestner | 13 years, 9 months ago

Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler (D) inspired hope within the Maryland gay community Wednesday after declaring that the state will now recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. Rendered nine months after he launched an official review of Maryland law, Gansler's landmark decision mandates that state agencies afford same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual spouses.

Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler announced Wednesday that Maryland will now recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. Photo courtesy of Washington Post.

Gansler's legal opinion, which overturns another attorney general's 2004 decision, has drawn heavy criticism from socially conservative lawmakers in the Maryland General Assembly. State law clearly defines marriage as the union between a man and a woman, but Maryland is one of six states whose legal code does not explicitly specify whether to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.

If Gansler's decision withstands court challenges mounted by the opposition, this groundbreaking legal opinion will bestow myriad financial benefits on same-sex couples. Although Governor Martin O'Malley broadened access to benefits for couples who registered as domestic partners, same-sex couples living in Maryland who were married elsewhere were arbitrarily denied access to the same financial safeguards due to the ambiguity of Maryland law.

David Rocah, a lawyer from the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, attested to the far-reaching impact that Gansler's legal review will have on same-sex couples living in Maryland. Because Maryland laws have more than 1,000 references to spouses or marriage, his legal opinion could expand same-sex couples' rights to health benefits, inheritances, child support and divorce.

Putting aside the increasingly acrimonious debate over Gansler's interpretation of Maryland law, it stands to reason that same-sex couples who have made a life-long commitment to each other should be entitled to the same financial protections as heterogeneous couples. Allowing same-sex couples to change the designation on their state pensions from "beneficiary" to "spouse" has significant financial advantages. Permitting this minor change - a small concession on the part of conservative lawmakers - will give same-sex spouses the peace of mind that comes with knowing their significant other will be provided for should death come prematurely.

Issued one week before Washington, D.C. will start granting same-sex marriages, Gansler's legal decision gives Maryland same-sex couples the opportunity to marry in the district and resume normal lives at their Maryland residences without sacrificing the rights afforded to couples recognized by the state. Let's cross our fingers that conservative lawmakers will shelve their personal feelings about the sanctity of traditional marriages and embrace a decision that works in the best interest of all types of couples.

Lauren Kestner. Lauren Kestner loves Trader Joe's chocolates, cheesy television soap operas, summer trips to Lake Anna, coffee ice cream from Coldstone Creamery, hikes at Northwest Branch and shopping at Heritage. Playing soccer for Blair or her MSC club team and running at the gym consumes much … More »

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