Maryland's highest court has issued a ruling recognizing divorce for valid out-of-state same-sex marriages. The ruling issued by the Court of Appeals on Friday stems from a 2010 Prince George's County case involving two women from California.
The ruling says Maryland courts should withhold recognition of a valid foreign marriage only if that marriage is "repugnant" to state public policy. The court says the threshold is a high bar that has not been met in the case that it ruled on.
The case involves Maryland resident Jessica Port and District of Columbia resident Virginia Anne Cowan. Port, 29, and Cowan, 32, were married in California in 2008 during a window in which gay marriage was legal there. Almost two years later, the couple filed for divorce in Maryland, where they both then lived. Prince George's County Judge A. Michael Chapdelaine declined to grant it.
“The court finds that to recognize the alleged marriage would be contrary to the public policy of Maryland,” Chapdelaine wrote.
Lawyers for Port and Cowan told the Court of Appeals that Chapdelaine was wrong. Maryland has long recognized marriages entered into in other states, they said, even if Maryland itself has barred those marriages. For example, Maryland law bars an uncle and a niece from marrying, but the state will recognize that marriage if it legally occurred in another state.
Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley issued the following statement after the decision was announced:
“Today’s unanimous decision by the Maryland Court of Appeals confirms that the policy of recognizing out-of-state same-sex marriages that we have implemented in the Executive Branch is valid and consistent with the law. To treat families differently under the law because they happen to be led by gay or lesbian couples is not right or just. Today’s decision is another step forward in our efforts to ensure that every child is protected equally under the law. As a free and diverse people, the way forward is always to be found through greater respect for the equal rights of all; for the human dignity of all.”