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Case Summary & History

Family & Relationships

Case: Port v. Cowan

STATUS: Victory, Maryland

Jessica Port and Virginia Anne Cowan married in California in 2008. Unfortunately, their relationship broke down and they made the difficult decision to end their marriage. They were residents of Maryland at that time, and sought a divorce in a Maryland court in 2010.

Longstanding Maryland law provides that couples who validly married in another state are recognized as married in Maryland, even if the couple would not have been able to marry in Maryland. However, the trial court found that although Jessica and Virginia met all the requirements for divorce under Maryland law and both wished to divorce, it would not grant their divorce because, according to the court, it would be against public policy to do so. Both women appealed that decision.

In April 2012, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, on behalf of Ms. Port, and Lambda Legal, on Ms. Cowan’s behalf, argued their case before the Maryland Court of Appeals, the highest court in the state.

On May 18, 2012, the Court of Appeals unanimously held that married same-sex couples are entitled to divorce under Maryland law, and that regardless of whether same-sex couples are allowed to marry in Maryland, out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples must be respected in the state. Earlier in 2012, the Maryland legislature had passed a law permitting same-sex couples to marry. That legislation would go into effect January 1, 2013, subject to the outcome of a possible referendum. This referendum will only address whether same-sex couples will be allowed to marry in Maryland. The Court of Appeals’ decision means that all out-of-states marriages must be respected in Maryland, regardless of the outcome of the referendum. NCLR partnered with Michele Zavos, Zavos Juncker Law Group PLLC to represent Ms. Port. Lambda Legal partnered with Mark Scurti and Leslie Stellman, Hodes, Pessin and Katz, P.A. to represent Ms. Cowan.

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