Maryland court hears lesbian divorce case

Edmund Broch April 6, 2012
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A lesbian couple who were married in California are petitioning for divorce at a high court in Maryland, where same-sex weddings are not recognised, for the second time, after their first petition was thrown out two years ago.

The case involves Maryland-based Jessica Port and Virginia Anne Cowan, a resident of District of Columbia. They were married in California in 2008, during the pre-Proposition 8 window, when marriage was equal there regardless of sexuality. They petitioned for divorce in 2010 in Maryland, which Prince George’s County Judge A. Michael Chapdelaine refused to grant.

“The court finds that to recognize the alleged marriage would be contrary to the public policy of Maryland,” Chapdelaine wrote.

The lawyers for the couple told the seven-member court that Maryland routinely grants divorce for heterosexual couples who married in other states, and the same should hold for same-sex couples.

Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights in San Fransisco, said today: “If you’re validly married somewhere else, the rule in Maryland is your marriage is going to be respected in Maryland, and that’s what we’re asking the court to do here.”

Maryland is stuck in something of a legal quandary for two reasons. One, the rulings so far have been far from consistent. About half-a-dozen gay couples have already been granted a divorce in the state, but the current couple, along with two others, have been denied their petitions, on account of the fact that same-sex weddings are not recognised there.

Two, same-sex ceremonies (and by extension, divorces) are set to begin officially in the state from January, 2013. Like California, opponents of the legislation are seeking to overturn the measure in a potential voter referendum in November. One anti-equality group, Maryland Marriage Alliance, has already collected 20,000 of the 56,000 signatures required to put the issue to the test.

In recent years, judges in Nebraska, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and Texas have refused to grant gay couples divorces. Responding to these cases, California and the District of Columbia recently passed laws allowing gay couples married in their jurisdictions to divorce there if their home state will not annul or dissolve their marriage.


More: Americas, gay divorce, gay marriage, Maryland, US

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