Same-Sex Couple Fights for Right to Divorce in Maryland

Couple married in California in 2008

A Maryland couple trying to get a divorce is finding that calling it quits is harder than saying "I do."

Jessica Port married Virginia Anne Cowan in 2008 in California, where it was legal for same-sex couples to wed. The couple since moved from D.C. to Maryland. After a couple of years, they mutually decided to file for divorce. Because it was uncontested, they were told they didn’t need lawyers, but then a judge in Prince George's County denied their request for divorce.

"We were told that because of the unnatural circumstances of our divorce, we would get a ruling by mail,” Port said. “So that, for me, the use of the word ‘unnatural’ and the fact that nobody else had gotten that statement, everybody else got a ruling, it made me nervous that maybe this wasn't going to be as smooth as I had thought."

Port and Cowan have hired lawyers and find themselves on the same side as they ask the Maryland Court of Appeals to recognize their marriage and grant their divorce.

"I think there's no question that there's discrimination,” said Port’s lawyer, Michele Zavos. “I think the fact that she and her spouse were able to marry in California but were not able to divorce in her home state is absolutely discrimination."

Last month, the Maryland Legislature passed the same-sex marriage bill and Gov. Martin O'Malley signed it into law. It legalizes same-sex marriage beginning next year, but the law must survive a petition drive for a referendum. Opponents hope voters will reject same sex marriage at the polls in November.

"I think the judge made the right decision in denying this divorce,” said Peter Sprigg, of Family Research Council. “Same-sex marriage is not legal in Maryland, at least not yet, and therefore it would be illogical for him to recognize their marriage for the purpose of ending it. I hope it will remain that way."

The case will be argued before Maryland's highest court in April. Depending on how the Maryland Court of Appeals decides, it could set a precedent, a statewide standard for how same-sex divorces are handled.

Port and Cowan have been waiting a year and a half for their divorce. They both say they want to move on with their lives.

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