Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D) said Wednesday that effective immediately, and until challenged in court, the state recognizes same-sex marriages performed elsewhere and that Maryland agencies should begin affording out-of-state gay couples all the rights they have been awarded in other places.
"State agencies in Maryland will recognize out-of-state gay marriages as of right now," Gansler said at a news conference explaining the effect of a long-awaited opinion he released Wednesday morning.
This announcement comes hours after Gansler’s opinion was released stating that the state should recognize out-of-state same sex marriages. But it was unclear as to whether or not that opinion had legal standing:
Earlier in the day, most lawmakers in the state capital had interpreted Gansler's opinion as having not gone that far. But Gansler said that in his role as the chief legal adviser to all executive branch agencies, his opinion now dictates how state agencies should respond when same-sex couples from elsewhere request benefits and legal protections they would have been awarded in the four New England states and Iowa, where same-sex marriages are legal.
The issue will soon become far less abstract in Maryland, with the District expected to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples this spring.
"It's not that foreign of a concept, I mean, it's just people, it's just like any other heterosexual couples," Gansler said. "However a heterosexual couple is treated that was validly married in Maryland or elsewhere, [a same-sex couple] will be treated like that here in Maryland, unless and until a court or the legislature decides differently."
Several legal scholars said the opinion appeared designed to spur court action, and Gansler acknowledged that he expects his opinion will be challenged quickly. He said it will likely be up to the state's highest court to issue a final verdict, but he said he believes his opinion now provides a road map that didn't exist for same-sex couples to win in court.
Many LGBT organizations have released statements. Here are a few:
“The Attorney General’s opinion is also consistent with Maryland’s public policy, which has steadily supported increasing legal protections for same-sex couples and their families. In recent years, the legislature has granted approximately 15 protections of legal marriage to same-gender couples in the areas of medical decision-making and inheritance,” said Morgan Meneses-Sheets, Executive Director of Equality Maryland.
“However, most of the 400+ state-level legal protections of marriage still remain out of reach to thousands of committed couples. Only civil marriage here at home and an end to discrimination by the federal government will provide full and equal protection under the law,” said Meneses-Sheets. “We call on state agencies honor the laws of Maryland by taking steps immediately to honor the legal marriages of these couples.”
"This important opinion is consistent with the long-standing tradition of legal recognition of valid marriages entered into in other states. And it is a positive development that will mean greater security, stability and peace of mind for legally married same-gender spouses whose marriages should rightfully be honored here at home," said ACLU of Maryland Executive Director Susan Goering.
"This is an important step as advocates in Maryland continue their work towards marriage equality," said GLAAD President Jarrett Barrios. "Now more than ever, Maryland residents - and Americans everywhere- need to hear personal stories from loving and committed gay and lesbian couples at the heart of these decisions because as fair-minded people get to know these couples, public support for marriage equality grows."