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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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Maryland

Hyattsville mayor dies by suicide

Kevin Ward and husband adopted son in D.C. in 2012

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Hyattsville Mayor Kevin Ward (Photo courtesy of the city of Hyattsville)

The city of Hyattsville released a statement on Wednesday afternoon announcing that their city’s openly gay Mayor Kevin Ward had died one day earlier by an apparent suicide.

“The city of Hyattsville reports with great sadness that our beloved Mayor Kevin Ward passed away yesterday, Jan. 25, from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound,” the statement says.

“Mayor Ward was a valued and trusted leader and a fierce advocate for all the people of Hyattsville,” the statement continues. “We are heartbroken at this loss and extend our deepest sympathy to the mayor’s family,” it says.

“No further information is available at this time,” the statement adds. “Details about services and remembrances will be shared when they are available.”

The Washington Post reported that U.S. Park Police disclosed that Ward was found deceased in Fort Marcy Park in McLean, Va., with a “self-inflicted gunshot wound.”

Ward, 44, became acting mayor of Hyattsville on Jan. 1, 2021, following the resignation of former Mayor Candace Hollingsworth. He was next in line to become mayor under the city’s political system in his then-position as president of the Hyattsville City Council.

He won election to complete the remainder of Hollingsworth’s term through 2023 in a May 11, 2021, special election, receiving 57.8 percent of the vote in a three candidate race, according to the Hyattsville election board. His closest opponent, Joseph Solomon, received 31.7 percent of the vote.

Nearby fellow gay mayors — Patrick Wojahn of College Park and Jeffrey Slavin of Somerset — said they got to know Ward through Maryland political circles and thought very highly of him.

“He was insightful, smart and dedicated,” Wojahn said. “He always seemed very confident and together as a person. And he had a great sense of humor.”

Slavin said he shared that remembrance of Ward, adding that he found Ward to be a “very nice person” dedicated to the people he served both as mayor and during his two terms on the Hyattsville City Council.

“There was noting in his public life that would have predicted this,” said Slavin in referring to Ward’s sudden passing.

The Washington Blade first reported on Ward in 2012 in a feature story on Ward and his then-domestic partner Chad Copeland when the two attended a ceremony at the D.C. Superior Court to complete the process of adopting their then-5-year-old son Norman. Ward and Copeland were among several gay couples who had their adoption papers signed by a judge at the ceremony.

On the website for his mayoral election campaign last year Ward said he and his family made Hyattsville their home in 2014 after he and his husband adopted their two sons.

“I am a pretty straightforward person,” he said in message to voters on his campaign website. “I believe in listening more than talking. But when I talk, I am not one to mince words or tell people what they want to hear,” he said. “I believe in doing the work. I believe that if I can help someone, then I can change her or his life,” he continued.

“This is why I dedicated my career to providing the best technology to education and to human services, to help as many people as I can,” he said.  

Ward was referring to his career in the field of educational and human services technology.

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District of Columbia

ANC supports license for Capitol Hill LGBTQ bar

Lesbian owners back ‘settlement agreement’ with restrictions on hours

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AYA, gay news, Washington Blade
Rachel Pike and Jo McDaniel are the bar industry veterans behind As You Are Bar. (Photo courtesy Pike and McDaniel)

The Capitol Hill Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6B voted unanimously on Tuesday night to support a liquor license for the LGBTQ-owned As You Are Bar, which plans to open in a two-story building at 500 8th St., S.E. in a commercial section of Capitol Hill known as Barracks Row.

The ANC’s decision to support the license took place at a virtual meeting attended by nearby residents and supporters of the bar after its owners, lesbian activists Jo McDaniel and Rachel Pike, agreed to the terms of an ANC settlement agreement that calls for restrictions in the hours the bar can offer dancing, entertainment, and music from a DJ.

The agreement means the ANC will not file a protest against the license before the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, a development that would have delayed a decision on the license by the ABC Board by as much as seven months. A protest by the ANC could have cost the bar thousands of dollars in legal fees to contest the protest by providing legal arguments seeking the approval of the license.

The ABC Board makes the final decision on whether to approve all liquor licenses in the city.

McDaniel and Pike have said they plan to operate an upstairs dance bar during evening hours and a café on the first floor during the day as well as in the evenings that will be an inclusive space that “welcomes anyone of any walk of life that will support, love, and celebrate the mission of queer culture.”

The two, who are business and life partners, say As You Are Bar will welcome people of all ages, genders, sexual orientations and gender identities as well as drinkers and non-drinkers as customers.

They have also told the ANC and nearby residents they have taken steps to soundproof the building, which they are renting, to ensure their plans to operate a dance bar with music from a DJ on the second floor will not disturb nearby residents.

Under terms of the settlement agreement, which was posted on the ANC’s website prior to the start of the meeting, the bar’s operating hours will be from 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and 12 p.m. to 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. Under D.C. law, bars are allowed to remain open for the sale of alcoholic beverages until 2 a.m. during weekdays and 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

The Settlement Agreement further calls for As You Are Bar to restrict the hours of consumption of alcohol from 12 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 12 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. It calls for allowing live entertainment and dancing (indoors only) from 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and from 12 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.

However, the agreement says DJ and amplified music will not be permitted after 8 p.m. on weekdays.

 McDaniel told the Blade that at the request of As You Are Bar’s attorney Richard Bianco, the ANC agreed to modify that restriction at the Tuesday night meeting to allow the bar to play “conversational” background music after 8 p.m. until closing time on weekdays.

 Among other things, the agreement requires the bar comply with a noise mitigation provision to “ensure that sound, noise, and vibrations are not audible or felt beyond the curb or any other premises at any time.” It also calls on the bar to provide an “appropriate number of staff” to monitor patrons as they leave the bar through the 8th Street entrance to “prevent loud voices and littering.”

Under rules established by the ABC Board and the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration or ABRA, if a settlement agreement is reached between an applicant for a liquor license and the ANC, a protest against the license by groups of five or more citizens is not allowed. Protests could still be filed by community-based civic groups and residents of an “abutting” house or residential facility.

In the case of As You Are Bar, no citizens group has emerged to oppose the license. There is just one abutting townhouse on E Street whose owner has expressed general support for the settlement agreement, according to McDaniel. But the resident has indicated she will not rule out a possible protest until Feb. 7, which is the deadline for filing a protest under ABRA’s rules.

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Virginia

Youngkin mum on whether parents should report teaching of LGBTQ topics

Republican governor on Monday touted tip line during an interview

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Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A spokesperson for Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin has yet to clarify whether the governor is encouraging parents to report educators who are teaching LGBTQ-specific topics.

The Washington Post reported Youngkin on Monday during an interview with John Fredericks on “Outside the Beltway with John Fredericks” referenced a tip line that parents can use to report the teaching of “divisive” subjects.

“We’re asking for folks to send us reports and observations [to] help us be aware … of their child being denied their rights that parents have in Virginia, and we’re going to make sure we catalogue it all,” Youngkin told Fredericks, according to the Post.

Fredericks co-chaired former President Trump’s 2016 campaign in Virginia.

Youngkin spokesperson Macaulay Porter on Tuesday did not respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment on the tip line.

The first executive order that Youngkin, who is a Republican, issued after he took office on Jan. 15 ended “the use of” so-called “critical race theory” (which is not taught in Virginia public schools) and other “divisive concepts” in the state’s classrooms.

Youngkin during his campaign against Terry McAuliffe expressed support for Tanner Cross, a gym teacher at a Leesburg elementary school who was suspended from his job after he spoke out against Virginia Department of Education guidelines that are designed to protect transgender and non-binary students. Youngkin has also said he does not support allowing trans children to play on sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

Youngkin has named Elizabeth Schultz, an anti-LGBTQ former member of the Fairfax County School Board, to his administration.

Republicans control the House of Delegates by a 52-48 vote margin. Democrats have a 21-19 majority in the state Senate.

State Sen. Travis Hackworth (R-Tazewell County) has introduced Senate Bill 20, which would eliminate the requirement that school districts must implement the Department of Education’s trans and non-binary student guidelines. State Sen. Jennifer Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach) has put forth Senate Bill 766, which would ban trans students from school sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity. State Del. John Avoli (R-Stanton) has sponsored House Bill 1126, which would restrict the ability of transgender students and school board employees to use bathrooms and other facilities in public schools.

Democrats have vowed to block any anti-LGBTQ bill in the General Assembly.

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