Maryland’s attorney general said Wednesday that the state should immediately start recognizing same-sex marriages performed elsewhere, a decision that is certain to draw quick legal or legislative challenges.
The opinion appears to place Maryland alongside New York in its view of out-of-state gay marriages. Until now, New York was the only state that didn't perform same-sex weddings but offered gay couples married elsewhere the same legal protections that married heterosexual couples enjoy.
Washington, D.C., which is expected to begin issuing marriage licenses to gay couples this spring, also honors same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. California recognizes some out-of-state gay marriages.
Attorney General Douglas Gansler issued his opinion Wednesday in response to a lawmaker’s question about how the state should regard gay couples legally wed elsewhere.
"State agencies in Maryland will recognize out-of-state gay marriages as of right now," Mr. Gansler said at a press conference, according to The Washington Post.
Since Washington is set to begin performing same-sex marriages in the coming weeks, there is some concern among state legislators that gay couples in Maryland will simply marry in Washington and sidestep the state's law. According to The Baltimore Sun, one lawmaker has introduced a bill that would ban the state from honoring those unions.
Gansler appears to be attempting to preempt that move.
Still, in his written decision, he said, “what we say in this opinion is a prediction, not a prescription” about how Maryland’s court would view the matter.
Many, including Gansler, expect the opinion, which is intended to guide state agencies in how to treat gay couples married elsewhere, to be challenged in court. And some members of the Maryland state legislature, which passed a domestic partnership law in 2008 that gives same-sex couples many of the same rights as married couples, said they may take steps against the attorney general.
Don Dwyer, a Republican state delegate, told the Washington Post that he would bring articles of impeachment against Gansler.
But the decision is being enthusiastically greeted by gay rights groups.
“The attorney general’s opinion relies on longstanding legal precedent that says couples who have been legally married in another state are treated under Maryland law as validly married, even if that marriage was not performed in the State of Maryland,” wrote Equality Maryland.
According to the Baltimore Sun, gay rights groups have been pushing the state legislature to take up a bill that would make Maryland the sixth state to legalize same-sex marriage.
Other lawmakers expect the question of gay marriage in Maryland to be decided at the polls. Massachusetts, Vermont, Iowa, Connecticut, and New Hampshire have legalized same-sex marriage. Voters in 31 other states have rejected it at the ballot box.