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Md. couples obtaining marriage licenses with little difficulty

Confusion remains around tax, other issues as Jan. 1 nears

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Dale Knight, Jeff Arney, gay marriage, same sex marriage, marriage equality, Maryland, gay news, Washington Blade
Dale Knight, Jeff Arney, gay marriage, same sex marriage, marriage equality, Maryland, gay news, Washington Blade

Dale Knight and Jeff Arney of Ellicott City were the first gay couple to obtain a marriage license in Howard County. (Photo courtesy of Dale Knight)

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.”

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District of Columbia

Four LGBTQ candidates running for delegate to Democratic National Convention from D.C.

Thirty-two candidates competing for 13 elected delegate positions in April 20 party caucus

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From left, candidates include John Fanning, Jimmie Williams, Monika Nemeth and David Meadows. (Photos courtesy of the D.C. Democratic Party)

Four LGBTQ Democratic Party activists are running for election as delegates from D.C. to the Democratic National Convention at an April 20 local Democratic Party caucus election in which all D.C. voters who are registered as Democrats will be eligible to vote.

The four LGBTQ candidates are among 32 candidates competing for just 13 elected delegate positions. D.C. will have a total of 51 delegates to the Democratic Convention, but the other 38 include elected officials and party leaders who are considered “automatic” or appointed delegates. The convention will be held in Chicago Aug. 19-23,

Under the delegate selection process put in place by the D.C. Democratic Party, six of the thirteen elected delegate positions will be elected by voters in a section of the city designated as District 1, which includes Wards 1,2, 6, and 8. The other seven elected delegates will be chosen by voters in District 2, which includes Wards 3, 4, 5, and 7.

The LGBTQ candidates include longtime gay Democratic activists David Meadows of Ward 6 and John Fanning of Ward 2 who are running in District 1. Transgender rights advocate and Democratic Party activist Monika Nemeth of Ward 3 and gay Democratic activist Jimmie Williams of Ward 7 are running in District  2.

All four of the LGBTQ candidates have been active members of the Capital Stonewall Democrats, one of D.C.’s largest LGBTQ political organizations. Nemeth and Meadows are past presidents of the organization. Williams has served as chair of the Ward 7 Democratic Committee and is a current member of the committee. Fanning has served as an elected member of the D.C. Democratic State Committee from Ward 2 and served as a delegate to the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

A total of 12 candidates are running in each of the two districts. Under party rules the highest six vote getters in District 1 and the highest 7 vote getters in District 2 will be declared the winners.

The Saturday, April 20 caucus election for the delegate candidates will take place at the Walter E. Washington D.C. Convention Center. An announcement by party officials says two voting sessions will take place, one from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and the other from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Aside from the elected delegates, two prominent D.C. LGBTQ Democratic leaders will be appointed as delegates to the 2024 Democratic National Convention in their role as members of the Democratic National Committee from D.C.

They are Claire Lucas, a highly acclaimed Democratic Party and LGBTQ rights advocate and party fundraiser; and Earl Fowlkes, one of the lead organizers of D.C.’s annual Black LGBTQ Pride celebration and former president of Capital Stonewall Democrats.

Lucas and Fowlkes and the four LGBTQ candidates running in the April 20 caucus election are committed to backing President Joe Biden as the Democratic nominee for re-election.

Statements from each of the candidates running for delegate in the April 20 caucus election, including the four LGBTQ candidates, can be accessed here: Candidates for Delegate | DC Democratic Party

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District of Columbia

HIPS D.C. launches ‘Harm Reduction’ vending machine program

LGBTQ supportive group says program aimed at ‘saving lives’ in response to overdose crisis

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HIPS official Alexandra Bradley, at right, provides information about the HIPS Harm Reduction Vending Machine at Whitman-Walker's Max Robinson Center as University of Maryland Professor Andrea Lopez, who is conducting a study of the vending machine program, stands beside a red syringe disposal bin that accompanies the vending machines. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

HIPS D.C., the LGBTQ supportive organization that provides support and services for drug users and sex workers, officially launched on April 5 a ‘Harm Reduction Vending Machine Pilot Program’ that it says will help save lives by providing free of charge harm reduction supplies for drug users in locations where there is a “higher than average” rate of overdose cases.

The announcement of the project was held outside the Whitman-Walker Health Max Robinson Center building at 1201 Sycamore Dr., S.E., next to where one of the first three HIPS vending machines is located.

Alexandra Bradley, HIPS’ Outreach and Community Engagement Manager, told a small gathering at the announcement event that among the supplies provided free of charge through the vending machines are naloxone, the life-saving nasal spray medication used to treat an opioid drug overdose; fentanyl test kits, syringes, and syringe wound care kits; drug snort kits, condoms, and other items, including  water bottles and snack food such as crackers and granola bars.

Bradley and other officials with HIPS and Whitman-Walker Health said they believe most people, when informed of the rationale behind the vending machines and other programs supporting drug users, will understand that the programs are not encouraging drug use.

“People will use drugs,” Bradley said. “We want them to use them safely,” she added, with the hope that they will seek support to get off drugs. “We can’t help anybody if they are dead. We want to keep people safe,” Bradley said.

A statement released by HIPS says the vending machine pilot program is being funded by a grant from the D.C. Department of Health. It says anyone can access the machines free of charge by contacting HIPS through a phone number posted on the machines – 202-779-0486 – to obtain a four-digit participant code “that they will then punch in to use the machines.” It says that as of April 5, 150 individuals had already registered and enrolled in the program.

Bradley pointed out that registration is not required to obtain naloxone supplies, which can be obtained through a code number posted on the machines. She said each of the three machines are also accompanied by a metal disposal receptacle for safely placing used syringes.

“These machines have been placed in areas where there are higher concentrations of overdose deaths and/or underserved areas with high levels of need for access to services and supplies,” the HIPS statement says.

In addition to the HIPS vending machine at the site of Whitman-Walker’s Max Robinson Center, the second HIPS vending machine is located at The Michelle Obama Southeast Center of Bread for the City at 1700 Marion Barry Avenue, S.E., and the third one is located at Bread for the City’s Shaw neighborhood facility at 1525 7th Street, N.W.

The announcement of the vending machine harm reduction project comes at a time when many in the D.C. LGBTQ community have mourned the loss of beloved local LGBTQ members from a drug overdose, including accidental drug overdoses caused by contamination of their preferred drug such as cocaine with fentanyl.

Also speaking at the announcement event was Andrea Lopez, an Associate Professor at the University of Maryland’s Department of Anthropology, which she said is partnering with HIPS to conduct a  study of the vending machine pilot program and its impact as a public health project and the public health benefits of vending machines as an “intervention” in support of those in need.

Others who spoke at the event and provided details of the vending machine project were Cyndee Clay, the HIPS Executive Director; Starr O’Leary, the HIPS Community Outreach Coordinator;  and Jona Tanguay, an official with Whitman-Walker Health.

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Maryland

Md. lawmakers pass several LGBTQ rights bills during 2024 session

Senate committee failed to vote on HIV decriminalization bill

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Maryland lawmakers passed a number of LGBTQ rights bills during this year’s legislative session that ended on Monday.

House Bill 1397, which would strengthened the state’s nondiscrimination law that includes sexual orientation and gender identity, passed on Monday. 

The Freedom to Read Act, which, among other things, would “protect local library personnel from dismissal or disciplinary action for doing their jobs, in accordance with prescribed standards,” passed in the Maryland Senate on April 5. 

The state Senate on April 4 passed House Bill 602, which would bolster Maryland’s employment discrimination law. The Maryland House of Delegates on the same day approved a measure that would make Maryland a sanctuary state for transgender people and their health care providers.

FreeState Justice Policy Advocate and Legal Impact Coordinator Camila Reynolds-Dominguez in a statement notes lawmakers also “affirmed Maryland’s commitment to the federal Equal Rights Amendment” and “created much needed oversight for Maryland’s prison system.” 

She noted lawmakers “defeated a myriad of anti-trans bills and harmful amendments” during this year’s legislative session. Reynolds-Dominguez also criticized the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee over its failure to vote on a bill that would repeal the criminalization of people with HIV.

“This legislative session was monumental for LGBTQIA+ Marylanders,” she said. “While we are extremely disappointed that the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee did not bring an HIV criminalization repeal law to a vote for the second year in a row, there is much else to celebrate.”

“It is too apparent from the harmful comments and misinformation we heard during legislative debates that there is still so much work that must be done to change certain legislators’ anti-LGBTQIA+ biases,” added Reynolds-Dominguez. “Nonetheless, we’re also celebrating the overwhelming majority of our elected officials who are wonderful and supportive allies in the fight to make Maryland an inclusive state where everyone has dignity and equal rights no matter who they are or who they love. We would like to thank all the advocates, allies and activists who helped us achieve so many victories this session — none of this would be possible without dozens of people’s hard work, tireless effort and unwavering dedication.”

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