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Saturday, January 21, 2006

Maryland's Gay Marriage Ban Falls

Judge rules law unconstitutional; decision is stayed as the state appeals

The Baltimore Sun is reporting that a Baltimore Circuit Court judge has sided with nine gay couples Friday, ruling that Maryland's law defining marriage as being between a man and a woman violates the state's Constitution.

It is the latest decision in an intense national debate over the rights of gays and lesbians to marry. The ruling, however, will not allow gay couples to become immediately eligible for marriage licenses. Judge M. Brooke Murdock stayed the order pending an appeal, which was immediately filed by the state attorney general's office.

Murdock's decision spoke directly to what some would call the moral debate over gay marriage.

"Although tradition and societal values are important, they cannot be given so much weight that they alone will justify a discriminatory statutory classification," the decision states. "When tradition is the guise under which prejudice or animosity hides, it is not a legitimate state interest."

Advocates applauded the ruling, saying it takes them "one step closer to ensuring that the right of equal protection applies to everyone."

"This is one of the fundamental issues of fairness facing our society," said David Rocah, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, which is representing the plaintiffs. "To have the court vindicate what we believed and argued is a wonderful feeling,"

But opponents of gay marriage quickly geared up to fight the judge's decision in the legislature and in voting booths, saying they would pursue a constitutional amendment.

"It's a sad day for the state of Maryland," said Del. Don Dwyer Jr., an Anne Arundel County Republican and leading gay marriage opponent in the House. "I assure you the majority of Maryland citizens do not agree with this court's decision."

Nine Maryland couples and one individual filed the lawsuit in Baltimore in July 2004, contending that the state's 1973 marriage law is unconstitutional.

Using a strategy successful in Massachusetts -- the only state where same-sex marriage is legal -- the plaintiffs requested marriage licenses from local court clerks, and they filed suit after being denied. The lawsuit names City Clerk Frank Conaway and the clerks of Dorches ter, Prince George's, St. Mary's and Washington counties.

"We're just amazed," said Lisa Polyak, 44; she and her partner, Gitanjali Deane, 43, are the lead plaintiffs in the lawsuit. "We are relieved that finally the court took us seriously, that they recognize us as a legitimate family that needs protection under the law and is entitled to it."

But some plaintiffs remained cautious out of concern that opponents might gain momentum in their push for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

Indeed, lawmakers who have pushed the General Assembly for years to pass such a ban said in interviews Friday they would move quickly to try again. "Legislative action will be taken," said Dwyer. "I will fight to the end on this."

As states nationwide wrestle with the issue of gay rights, same-sex marriage supporters and opponents are watching the Maryland case closely.

Maryland is one of at least six states -- the others are Washington, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and California -- with pending legal challenges. An additional 13 states have adopted constitutional amendments outlawing gay marriage, 11 of which came in the form of ballot referendums during the 2004 election.

National opponents of gay marriage said Friday that while they disagreed with the Maryland ruling, it offered a "silver lining": the possibility of a constitutional amendment.

"Some legislators have said it was unnecessary because we already have a 1973 law that defines marriage," said Peter Sprigg, vice president of public policy for the Family Research Council, which opposes gay marriage. "But we now know that at least one judge is perfectly willing to overturn that law. The only way to protect marriage is through a constitutional amend ment."

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said he was by the court's decision but stopped short of endorsing a constitutional amendment, saying he planned to wait for a ruling by a Maryland appeals court.

"I am going to employ the appropriate remedy to protect marriage in the state of Maryland," Ehrlich said.

Polyak argued that altering the Constitution to forbid same-sex marriage would only harm families such as hers. Polyak and Deane have two daughters, ages 9 and 6, and say that, without marriage, they are not guaranteed each other's health insurance. If one of them were to die, the partner would not receive benefits -- such as Social Security -- and that would leave their children in a precarious position, Polyak said.

"How is that in the public interest for the citizens of Maryland? Who does that help?" she said of a constitutional amendment. "I can clearly state the way that it harms. What public policy goal are they advancing by discriminating against a group of people?"

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At 9:00 AM, Blogger C.T. said...

It is judges who refuse to obey law, like Mr. murdock, who ought to be fired.

At 1:49 PM, Blogger Jeff said...

Hi Chase,

<<<< It is judges who refuse to obey law, like Mr. murdock, who ought to be fired.>>>>

Not at all. The court room is the proper place to test law. If it is bad law, then it needs to be changed. He was doing his job by saying it is bad law. We have a system of checks and balances built into our govenernmental process so that one branch can not have it's way without proper review. If it were not this way for example, we would not have just celebrated MLK Jr Day, because the bad laws governing civil rights would not have been changed. Sometimes laws have to be changed for what is right, not what the majority wants.

Our forefathers designed this to be a Republic, not a Democracy. In a democracy, the majority (right or wrong) makes the decisions. If our country was a majority of Wiccans for example, would you want them deciding the right way to worship, even for you, a hristian, just because they were they majority ??

No, Judges have to look at something to determine if it is right for all, not just the popular vote.

At 3:16 PM, Blogger C.T. said...


I agree with you that some laws are bad laws. i also agree with you that we have a republican form of government. But a republican form of government doesn't mean that judges can arbitrarily change or subvert or ignore existing legislation. Nor should they attempt to create legislation. I'm not going to be so naive as to think that judge Murdock had the best interest of the constitution in mind. Quite the contrary, I think he had a personal agenda in mind. i'm not against agendas. I just think they ought to have basis in law, not opinion. It's judge Murdocks opinion that there shouldn't be a law banning homosexual marriages, therefore, he uses his judicial authority to promote his own views rather than uphold the law. Law is made by legislation. If it is to be changed, then it must be done so through legislation. The courts can rule legislation unconstitutional, but they must have constitutional, not abritrary, reason to do so. Catering to a few special interest groups is not republican government.

So, I agree, the courts can overrule legislation when its unconstitutional, but not simply because some judge doesn't like it. Then who's going to overrule the courts? That's why I say he should be fired, because arbitrary judges should be held accountable.

At 5:27 PM, Blogger Jeff said...

Well here's the rub. See, Judge Murdock already stated that it was a constitutional issue. And since opponents of gay marrage are seeking an amendment to the State's constitution, that only validates Murdock's assertion. If it were not constitutionally based, there would be no need for an amendment. So, since we have established that it was indeed a constitutional issue, it would seem that Judge Murdock perform his function properly after all, and his job should be secure.

There are many laws with which I take significant issue. The lack of gay rights is one of them. Another one is the the domestice violence law passed by the Clinton admin where an individual convicted of a domestic assault may not possess a firearm...ever. It does not matter that there may have not have been any firearm involcement in the original assault. They also made this law retroactive to day one, which knocked about a hundred thousand cops out of a job. This was bad law making. But the way our system is set up...the only way to change it is to either convince a Congressman to try to sponsor a bill, or to have someone "challenge" it. This means breaking the law, getting arrested and then appeallng it on up the judicial chain.

This judge did what he was supposed to do. The system works. If we don't like this, we need to change the system, not grouse about the parts.

At 5:31 PM, Blogger B O B said...

I think it is great that you two can get into such lively discussions. The points both of you are making are holding my interest.


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