Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler said on Thursday same-sex couples can begin to marry in the state on Jan. 1.
He wrote in a 19-page opinion that clerks can begin to issue marriage licenses to gays and lesbians as soon as Dec. 6, as long as they don’t take effect until the same-sex marriage law takes effect at the start of the new year. A 1999 law states a marriage license is not valid until 6 a.m. on the second calendar day after a clerk issues it.
Gansler concluded this requirement does not “expressly prohibit licenses becoming effective after that time.”
“Although there is a legal reason why same-sex couples cannot be licensed to marry before midnight on Jan. 1, 2013…, there is no such legal reason why they should not be licensed to marry at any time after the moment the law takes effect,” he wrote.
The same-sex marriage law voters approved by a 52-48 percent margin earlier this month is scheduled to take effect on a legal holiday when clerks’ offices are typically closed. It was previously believed the earliest a same-sex couple would have been able to legally marry under Maryland law was 6 a.m. on Jan. 4.
A spokesperson for Gov. Martin O’Malley welcomed Gansler’s opinion.
“We think it is a thorough and well-reasoned opinion,” David Rocah, staff attorney for the ACLU of Maryland, said. “We expect that, in line with the opinion, county clerks throughout the state will quickly begin accepting applications for marriage licenses, and will start issuing the licenses after December 6, with a January 1 effective date. There are many people who have literally waited a lifetime to get married, and they should not have to wait any longer than necessary after Dec. 31 to do so.”
“What a great start to the new year,” Human Rights Campaign spokesperson Kevin Nix told the Washington Blade.
Gansler also wrote a same-sex couple who entered into a civil union in another jurisdiction can marry in the state. Maryland law will still legally recognize a same-sex marriage legally performed out-of-state.