Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler issued a long-awaited opinion Wednesday saying same-sex marriages performed in other states or countries most likely would have full legal standing in the state.
But in his 53-page legal opinion, Gansler said the Maryland Court of Appeals would have the final say in the matter should opponents of same-sex marriage choose to contest the legal standing of married same-sex couples living in or visiting the state.
Gansler’s opinion comes one week before a law allowing same-sex marriages to be performed in D.C. is expected to take effect March 3. Same-sex couples in Maryland have said they would likely make wedding plans in the District in response to a favorable opinion from Gansler.
The attorney general’s opinion comes nine months after state Sen. Richard Madaleno (D-Montgomery County), who is gay, asked Gansler to issue an official opinion on the question of whether the state could legally recognize same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions.
“You have asked whether those marriages may be recognized under state law,” Gansler said in his opinion, which is addressed to Madaleno. “The answer to that question is clearly ‘yes.’”
Madaleno could not immediately be reached for comment, but he told the Washington Post in a brief interview that changes in state policy could now result from a court ruling, legislation or administrative action, though none of those is imminent.
Gansler says in the opinion that while he believes the legal concept of state “public policy” favors recognition of out-of-state gay marriages, others might raise legal grounds to contest that view.
In particular, he points to the 2007 ruling by the Maryland Court of Appeals upholding the state’s marriage law banning same-sex marriages from being performed in the state. In that 4-3 ruling denounced by LGBT activists, the court ruled that restricting marriage to a man and a woman doesn’t discriminate against same-sex couples or deny them rights under the state constitution. The court held that the ban on same-sex marriage instead promotes the state’s “interest” in traditional heterosexual marriage as a means of fostering procreation and protecting children.
But Gansler says in his opinion that the appeals court decision should not be a key factor in determining whether Maryland could recognize same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions.
“The Court of Appeals would start from the general principle that a marriage that is valid in the place of celebration remains valid in Maryland,” he said in his opinion. “There are exceptions to that rule if the particular marriage is contrary to a strong state public policy. A statute that limits marriage in Maryland to opposite-sex couples could be said to embody a policy against same-sex marriage.”
However, Gansler noted that the Court of Appeals has not prevented the state from recognizing various types of marriages performed in other states that are not allowed to be performed in Maryland under the state’s marriage law. Among them are common law marriages, which are recognized in many other states. The Court of Appeals also upheld a Rhode Island marriage between an uncle and a niece, even though the Maryland marriage law prohibits such a marriage, Gansler says in his opinion.
“While the matter is not free from all doubt, in our view, the court is likely to respect the law of other states and recognize a same-sex marriage contracted validly in another jurisdiction,” he says. “In light of Maryland’s developing public policy concerning intimate same-sex relationships, the court would not readily invoke the public policy exception to the usual rule of recognition.”
In response to a second question raised by Madaleno, Gansler says in his opinion that Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley does not have authority to issue an executive order recognizing same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions.
In his May 19, 2009, letter to Gansler requesting the same-sex marriage recognition opinion, Madaleno pointed out that New York Gov. David Paterson issued such an order, clearing the way for New York to recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages, even though the legislature had not approved a same-sex marriage bill.
“An executive order of the governor must be consistent with existing Maryland law, as enacted by the General Assembly and construed by the courts,” Gansler says.
LGBT rights groups hailed Gansler’s opinion as an important breakthrough for the marriage equality movement.
“Today is a day to celebrate,” said Morgan Meneses-Sheets, executive director of Equality Maryland, a state LGBT advocacy group.
“Equality Maryland applauds a favorable opinion released by the Office of Attorney General Doug Gansler that states that the marriages of same-gender couples legalized in other jurisdictions have standing to be honored here at home.”
But Rick Bowers, director of Christian Impact Alliance, a Maryland group opposed to same-sex marriage, said Gansler acted without legal authority to issue such a ruling.
“The governing body over a decision like this should be the General Assembly or the people of the state of Maryland through a vote by referendum,” Bowers said.
Gay rights groups, however, disputed Bowers assessment, saying Gansler has authority to issue such an opinion.
Lambda Legal, a national LGBT group, praised Gansler’s opinion for “saying that recognition of out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples is consistent with Maryland law.”
Susan Sommer, director of the group’s Constitutional Litigation program, said the Gansler opinion “should bring some peace of mind to married same-sex couples and their families in Maryland as this state aligns itself with New York, making clear that there is no gay exception to long-standing marriage recognition law.”
Evan Wolfson, executive director of the national same-sex marriage advocacy group Freedom to Marry, said he was confident that the Maryland Court of Appeals would uphold Gansler’s assessment that valid same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions have full legal standing in Maryland.
“Maryland’s typical practice, like all states historically, is to honor marriages rather than destabilize them,” Wolfson said. “The Maryland Attorney General is concluding, looking at Maryland law, that there is no reason for a gay exception to that tradition and common sense practice.”
While praising Gansler’s opinion as an important development for same-sex marriage equality, some LGBT organizations said it focuses attention on the need for all states to adopt same-sex marriage laws.
“Today’s opinion by the Maryland Attorney General only continues to further highlight the burdensome patchwork of unequal laws same-sex couples face across the country,” said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign. “With every step that is taken in the progress toward full equality, it becomes more and more obvious that separate is not equal and marriage by any other name is not marriage.”
The action by Gansler on Wednesday also comes less than a month after the Maryland House Judiciary Committee voted 12-8 to defeat a bill that would have banned same-sex marriage in the state. The measure was introduced by Del. Emmett Burns (D-Baltimore County), who said he anticipated Gansler’s opinion would back same-sex marriage recognition.
Maryland Del. Don Dwyer (R-Anne Arundel County), meanwhile, is “definitely” moving ahead with plans to file impeachment papers against Gansler for his same-sex marriage recognition opinion, according to spokesperson Louisa Baucom.
“His position about the opinion is that Attorney General Gansler had no right to issue the opinion, regardless of what the opinion is — that his constitutional limitations prohibit that,” Baucom said.
“He will be drawing up letters of impeachment against Attorney General Gansler,” she said, adding that the charges would be based on “violation of his oath of office.”
Student activists picket Loudoun Co. School Board
Members of the Pride Liberation Project call for ‘trans rights now’
A group of student activists from the Pride Liberation Project picketed in front of the Loudoun County School Board meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 9 in Ashburn, Va. Members of the group chanted, “trans rights now” in front of the administrative building at the start of the session.
Loudoun County Public Schools student activist Daniel Tanedjaja told the Blade, “I am here in solidarity and support for our trans and gender non-conforming students here. In actuality, a lot of our trans and gender non-conforming kids at Loudoun County Schools don’t know that there is a gender neutral bathroom option and I would like the school to make it more accessible to them.”
Activists were seated during the community input portion of the school board meeting. Some of the protesters held up signs supporting trans rights during anti-LGBTQ public comments at the podium by conservative community activists.
The Pride Liberation Project is a Northern Virginia-based student-led organization that advocates for LGBTQ rights.
Gay couple assaulted on D.C. street by attackers shouting ‘monkeypox faggots’
Police list Aug. 7 incident in Shaw as suspected hate crime
Two young men appearing in their late teens shouted the words “monkeypox faggots” at a gay male couple walking along 7th Street, N.W. in the city’s Shaw neighborhood on Sunday, Aug. 7, before punching the two men in the face and head in an incident that D.C. police have called a suspected hate crime.
The gay men were treated and released at Howard University Hospital for head and facial bruises, with one of the two receiving stitches for a deep cut on his upper lip, according to one of the victims who spoke to the Washington Blade.
The victim, an Alexandria resident who asked that he and his partner, a D.C. resident, not be identified by name, said the attackers were part of a group of four or five young men appearing to be between 17 and 19 years old and two young women accompanying them. He said the group crossed paths with the gay couple around 5:40 p.m. in front of a store on the 1700 block of 7th Street, N.W., as the couple was walking to a nearby bus stop on Rhode Island Avenue.
The victim who spoke to the Blade said a nearby witness called D.C. police, who arrived within a few minutes as the two attackers and the other young men with them fled the scene. He said although an ambulance arrived on the scene, one of the police officers drove the couple to nearby Howard University Hospital, where they spent about six hours in the emergency room.
The couple had spent part of that 90+ degree day at the city’s Banneker Pool and later stopped at the Kiki gay bar on U Street, N.W. before taking what the victim who spoke to the Blade said was a leisurely walk from Kiki via 7th Street on their way to the bus stop, where they planned to take the bus to his boyfriend’s Northeast D.C. house.
As the couple walked south on 7th Street about a block from their destination on Rhode Island Avenue they crossed paths with the group of teenagers in front of a store that a D.C. police report says was at 1731 7th St., N.W.
“They were about 17 to 19 years old,” the victim who spoke to the Blade said. “And one of them started saying stuff like, hey, look at these monkeypox faggots and some not so nice stuff like that,” he said.
“We turned around to walk away and one of them came up behind me and got my attention and then sucker punched me and then hit me again and then hit my boyfriend in the face,” the victim said. “And another person hit him in the face as well,” he said. “And then someone across the street called the cops. And then the cops came, and they scattered off.”
To the couple’s surprise, the two young women remained on the scene and apologized for the actions by the guys they were with.
“So, I said something like thanks for the apology, but this is the kind of people you hang out with,” the victim recounted. “And one of them said their dad was gay, and they kind of walked away before the cops got there,” he said. “It was nice of them to apologize I guess for the other people.”
The D.C. police report lists the incident as having two offenses, a simple assault against the two men and a misdemeanor destruction of property related to the destruction of a pair of sunglasses worn by one of the two men that were damaged in the assault against him.
The report also lists the incident as a suspected “Sexual orientation – Anti-Gay” hate crime.
As in all incidents of violent crime, D.C. police call on members of the public to contact the police with information about an incident like this to call police at 202-727-9099 or text a tip to the department’s TEXT TIP LINE at 50411.
Lesbian activist assaulted with barstool at D.C. lounge
Police say victim’s claim of anti-gay hate crime under investigation
D.C. police say they are actively investigating an Aug. 3 incident in which lesbian activist and Ward 8 community leader Aiyi’nah Ford says she was hit three times in the head with the metal legs of a barstool swung by a man yelling anti-gay names at her.
A police report says the incident took place at the Player’s Lounge, a restaurant and bar at 2737 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave., S.E., in the city’s Congress Heights neighborhood shortly before and after midnight on Aug. 3 and 4.
Ford, who witnesses say was covered in blood when she stepped outside the restaurant after other patrons intervened, was taken by ambulance to George Washington University Hospital for treatment of a head and scalp injury that required multiple stitches.
Ford and an employee at Player’s Lounge said the man who allegedly committed the assault is a regular customer at the restaurant but is known to people only by his nickname of Black. A police spokesperson said that as of Monday no arrest had been made in the case but that it remains under “active investigation” by a detective with the department’s Seventh District in Southeast.
A police report obtained by the Blade lists the incident as an assault with a dangerous weapon, but it does not classify the incident as a hate crime.
“There is no indication at this time that this incident was motivated by hate/bias,” said D.C. police spokesperson Alaina Gertz in response to a question by the Blade about the police report. “Should further interviews with the complainant reveal information that suggests that this should be a hate crime, the report can be amended with the new information,” Gertz said.
“Anyone who has knowledge of this incident should take no action but call police at 202-727-9099 or text your tip to the Department’s TEXT TIP LINE at 50411,” Gertz said in an email message. “The Metropolitan Police Department currently offers a reward of up to $10,000 to anyone who provides information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for a violent crime committed in the District of Columbia,” she said.
Ford told the Blade she believes she made it clear to the police officers who spoke with her at the scene of the incident that the man who assaulted her called her anti-gay names, including “dyke bitch.” In a video of herself talking about the incident that she posted on Facebook Ford refers to the assault against her as a “gay-bashing.”
The police report says officers arrived on the scene while Ford was being treated by paramedics with the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department.
“Victim 1 stated that she was talking to a friend of hers at the location when another person who frequents the location interjected himself and began to curse at Victim 1,” the police reports states. “The verbal altercation escalated, and Victim 1 stated Suspect 1 began to assault her with a bar stool,” the police report continues. “Other patrons at the bar broke up the altercation and Suspect 1 fled,” according to the report.
It adds, “Witness 1 corroborated Victim 1’s story and stated that Suspect 1 frequents the area but doesn’t know his name, only his nickname.”
Ford told the Blade the incident began while she and three or four Player’s Lounge customers were engaged in a conversation about local community issues, including the city’s violence interruption program. Ford said that, among other things, she expressed her strongly held opinion that the violence interruption program was not working and was a “joke.”
It was around that time, she said, that the man who assaulted her approached the group and interjected himself into the conversation and indicated that he was interested in possibly becoming one of the violence interrupter program volunteers or participants. Ford said the man, who appeared to be over six feet tall, began referring to women as “bitches” and hurled other curse words.
“So, we’re all going like, what?” Ford said of her and the others’ reaction to the man’s comments. At that point, most of those she was speaking with left the restaurant because it was close to its 11 p.m. closing time.
“And I’m like, who are you talking to?” Ford said she recalls asking the man. According to Ford, he responded by repeatedly reciting the words “dyke bitch” in a hostile way.
“At that point I immediately knew he was talking to me because I’m the only openly lesbian person in that space that frequents there regularly and who was in that room,” Ford told the Blade.
She said she questioned the man’s motives, including whether he could become a violence interrupter, and the two began to argue back and forth until, according to Ford, he walked up to her and stood almost shoulder to shoulder next to her.
“He continues to call me all kinds of homophobic slurs,” Ford said. “He calls me all kinds of bitches and continues to encourage the bar staff to get me to shut up before he shoots me and whatever else he will do to bring my death,” Ford said.
“Before I know it, he has picked up this barstool and hit me in the head,” said Ford. “He takes a second barstool and proceeds to hit me again,” she said, adding that he hit her a third time in the head with one of the barstools, each time with the metal legs of the stool.
Ford said she has learned that the man who assaulted her has told people she spit on him, which he considered to be an assault by her against him. Ford called that allegation a lie, saying she absolutely did not spit on the man.
When the Blade contacted Player’s Lounge for comment, a man who answered the phone arranged for Teresa “Auntie” Smith, one of the longtime employees who was present at the time of the incident, to speak with the Blade. Smith said while she was getting ready to close the restaurant she saw and heard what sounded like a heated argument between Ford and the man known as Black, but she said she was busy doing something in another part of the room and did not see the assault take place.
But she said both Ford and Black, whom she has known for a long time from their role as regular customers, were each saying “very mean things” that she had not heard either of them say before. Among other things, she said she heard Ford say to Black that he engaged in “oral sex with other men.”
When asked about Smith’s claim that she raised the issue of oral sex with Black, Ford said, “Yes, after he called me a dyke bitch I most certainly did.” Ford added, “It sounds like she’s saying that I deserved to be hit with a barstool. Nothing a woman says to a man that is yelling and encroaching on her personal space justifies hitting her in the head three times with a weapon,” Ford said.
“We at Players had a very sad incident on Wednesday night,” the restaurant said in an Aug. 5 post on its Facebook page about the assault case. “We are mostly family here and we look out for each other. We are so sorry for what happened and hope she will be ok,” the message says. “We are still trying to sort out the details of what happened, but we know that no one here would support gay bashing or any type of violence.”
Phil Pannell, a longtime D.C. LGBTQ rights and Ward 8 community activist, said he has organized LGBTQ community events at Player’s Lounge, saying it has the reputation of being an LGBTQ-friendly establishment for many years. He told the Blade that he was surprised upon learning of the assault against Ford because he was unaware of that type of incident ever having occurred at Player’s Lounge.
Ford, among other things, serves as executive director of the Future Foundation, a Ward 8-based community organization that provides services to local teenagers and their families. The organization’s website says one of its programs, called LGBTQ+ You, has provided a “safe space” drop-in facility for LGBTQ youth living in the city’s east of the Anacostia River neighborhoods.
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