With less than three weeks until Maryland’s same-sex marriage law takes effect, gay and lesbian couples continue to apply for marriage licenses across the state.
Eighteen of Maryland’s 23 circuit courts began accepting applications for same-sex marriage licenses on Dec. 6; the same day Gov. Martin O’Malley officially certified the Nov. 6 election results that included the passage of the referendum on the state’s same-sex marriage law by a 52-48 percent margin. Attorney General Doug Gansler wrote in a Nov. 29 opinion that gays and lesbians could begin to marry in the state on Jan. 1.
The Cecil County Circuit Court began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples on Monday, while gays and lesbians will be able to apply for them in Prince George’s County Circuit Court starting on Dec. 18. Clerks in Caroline, Queen Anne’s and St. Mary’s Counties will not begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples until Jan. 2. (Question 6 lost in all five of the aforementioned jurisdictions.)
Heather Ware and her partner of seven years are the first same-sex couple to receive a marriage license in Alleghany County. She told the Washington Blade the staff at the clerk’s office in Cumberland “were so friendly.”
“They just walked us through the whole thing,” Ware said. “It was very simple. You could tell they were excited about it too, so that was a good feeling.”
Ellicott City residents Dale Knight and Jeff Arney, who will celebrate their 15th anniversary in June, on Friday became the first gay couple in Howard County to receive a marriage license. Knight told the Blade the three women who were working in the clerk’s office where they submitted their application were “really friendly” and “very happy to have us there.”
He said they took his and Arney’s picture and clapped for them.
“While we were there (in the clerk’s office) it was us, another lesbian couple and a straight couple,” Knight said. “I was like, ‘Oh look, a little melting pot here.’ It was kind of cute.”
Takoma Park lawyer Sue Silber, who is also an Equality Maryland board member, told the Blade on Wednesday she has not received any reports of clerks who have refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
“All in all, generally the couples I’ve been talking too it’s been smooth, it’s been celebratory,” Mark Scurti, a partner at Pessin Katz Law in Towson, added. “Everybody’s been friendly. It’s been an air of celebration — very positive.”
Even though gays and lesbians across Maryland have had little difficulty obtaining marriage licenses in jurisdictions where clerks have begun issuing them, extending state tax, spousal and other benefits to same-sex partners once the law takes effect could prove more difficult.
Scurti said some title companies have refused to issue title insurance policies to same-sex couples — he provided them copies of the state Court of Appeals’ unanimous decision in May that recognized nuptials for gays and lesbians legally performed in D.C. and other jurisdictions.
Washington County in July began offering spousal benefits to employees who legally married their same-sex partner after Lambda Legal filed a complaint with the Maryland Commission on Human Rights on behalf of a county librarian whose application for spousal benefits had been denied. Baltimore County in late 2010 extended same-sex spousal benefits to county employees after the LGBT legal advocacy group filed grievances on behalf of two married lesbian police officers whose applications had been denied.
The Anne Arundel County Public Schools in July 2011 extended these benefits to gay and lesbian employees who legally married outside of Maryland.
Scurti said a Baltimore City solicitor had to become involved in a case where a clerk refused to recognize same-sex marriage for purposes of recording a couple’s deed. Maryland income and estate tax rules still define marriage as written under the federal Defense of Marriage Act, so same-sex couples will still have to file separate 2012 state tax returns.
“There are issues to still work out around that stuff,” Silber said, noting Equality Maryland and other groups continue to address them. “I don’t know yet whether all of this will be smooth when people start marrying, but we’re working on it. DOMA makes it very complicated.”
In spite of these potential hurdles, a number of couples continue to move forward with their plans to tie the knot on Jan. 1.
Ware, her partner and at least three other same-sex couples are discussing the possibility of marrying in Cumberland just after midnight on New Year’s Day.
“We fought so hard for it and the couples that will be standing there with us understand how hard it’s been, how much we’ve wanted it,” she said. “It’s definitely been a fight that I think should be celebrated together.”
A close friend who has become a wedding officient plans to marry Knight and Arney at her Howard County home at 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 1. The couple plans to have a larger wedding later in the year, but Knight said he and his partner want to secure the legal protections the new law will afford to same-sex couples.
“God forbid something happened to one of us, we at least know that we have some protection in the eyes of the state that we’re married,” he said. “Besides, we’ve waited long enough. Some people are waiting or whatever and that’s fine. But for us, we feel like we’ve waited long enough and we just kind of want that as soon as we can get it.”