FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE | January 20, 2006
Historic Ruling Paves Road for Marriage Equality
(Baltimore, MD, January 20, 2006) — In a landmark victory for families, a Baltimore trial court ruled today that Maryland's statutory exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage violates the Maryland Constitution because it discriminates based on gender and does not serve any legitimate public purpose. "When tradition is the guise under which prejudice or animosity hides, it is not a legitimate state interest," ruled Judge M. Brooke Murdock.
"We are delighted by this historic ruling in Maryland," said Kate Kendell, Executive Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which is lead counsel in Woo v. Lockyer, the California marriage equality case. "Maryland now joins Washington and California trial courts in holding that excluding same-sex couples harms families and unconstitutionally discriminates on the basis of sex."
The ACLU filed the lawsuit, in partnership with Equality Maryland, on behalf of 9 same-sex couples and a same-sex surviving partner in July, 2005.
Dan Furmansky, Executive Director of Equality Maryland, the advocacy group for LGBT Marylanders, added, "This is truly an historic moment for the State of Maryland. Same-sex couples across the state just came a giant step closer to the day when they won't have to worry that life partners will be ignored in discussions about emergency medical care, or about the hurt and confusion their children feel when forced to explain why their parents can't marry."
"Same-sex couples need the same protections for their families that opposite-sex couples do," said Ken Choe, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU's Lesbian and Gay Rights Project, who argued the case. "The court was right to conclude that preventing same-sex couples from marrying is sex discrimination. The only reason Lisa Polyak can't marry her partner of 24 years, Gita Deane, is because she is another woman and not a man, as the court recognized, is unconstitutional."
Judge Murdock stayed her ruling pending appeal. "Because of the nature of this action and the logistical ramifications that may affect the clerk's offices across the state of Maryland as a result of the court's decision the operation of this court's order is stayed pending any appeal," Murdock wrote.
More than 100 religious leaders from across the state signed onto a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the right of lesbian and gay people to marry. State civil rights organizations and one of the state's leading child welfare organizations also filed briefs supporting marriage for same-sex couples.
In California, NCLR represents Equality California, Our Family Coalition, and twelve same-sex couples in a challenge to California's statutory exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage. In March, 2005, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Richard Kramer ruled that California's law unconstitutionally discriminates on the basis of sex and violates the fundamental human right to marry. Judge Kramer's decision is now on appeal before the California Court of Appeal, where the case likely will be heard this spring. In January, more than 250 religious and civil rights organizations filed amicus briefs urging the Court to permit same-sex couples to marry. Last year, the California Legislature voted to end marriage discrimination against same-sex couples, but the bill was vetoed by the governor.
The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.