Maryland’s highest court announced this week it will review a lower court’s ruling that a 1973 state law limiting marriage to heterosexuals is unconstitutional.

Late last month, the Maryland Court of Appeals accepted the case as part of its fall term. The court’s seven judges will hear oral arguments in December.

According to The Washington Blade, Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Brooke Murdock ruled in January that Maryland’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.

The decision will not take effect until the appeals process is exhausted.

“After much study and serious reflection, this court holds that Maryland’s statutory prohibition against same-sex marriage cannot withstand constitutional challenge,” Ms Murdock wrote in her decision. “When tradition is the guise under which prejudice or animosity hides, it is not a legitimate state interest.”

The lawsuit, Deane vs Conaway, was filed in July 2004 by the American Civil Liberties Union and Equality Maryland. Nine gay Maryland couples and one man whose partner died are parties to the lawsuit.

Equality Maryland Executive Director Dan Furmansky said in a statement to the media that he’s pleased the case will skip the state’s intermediary Court of Special Appeals, and go directly to Maryland’s highest court.

He added that families involved “deserve an answer sooner rather than later.”

One of the defense attorneys in the case, Assistant Attorney General Margaret Ann Nolan, said both sides agreed the case should advance directly to the state’s highest court

and requested the expedited resolution, The Blade reports.

The Maryland Court of Appeals announced its decision to hear the case the same day the high court in Washington State upheld the Defence of Marriage Act.

That ruling was the fourth in a series of recent court defeats to plaintiffs seeking marriage equality.

The New York Court of Appeals ruled last month that marriage recognition for same-sex couples may only be granted through the state legislature. Courts in Georgia and Nebraska also last month reinstated constitutional amendments there banning gay couples from marrying.

Meredith Moise, the National Black Justice Coalition’s associate director of religious affairs, told The Blade that gay rights activists are hoping for a win in Maryland.

“I think that it’s very important,” she said. “Maryland represents a lot for the movement.”

© 2006 GayWired; All Rights Reserved.