Same Sex Divorce OK – Marriage Not Yet

Aug 8, 2012 by

Same-sex marriages performed in states where they are legal must be recognized by the courts in Maryland, according to a new decision handed down by Maryland’s highest court. In an unusual twist, the latest ruling means that gay couples living in Maryland can’t get married, but they could get divorced if they were married because the state must recognize the legality of their marriage as long as it was legally performed in any state outside of Maryland.

The ruling came from a vote by the Maryland Court of Appeals vote of 7 to 0 that mandated a gay divorce should be recognized in Maryland as long as the state has laws on the books that recognize any gay marriages. The court’s 21-page ruling stated that “A valid out-of-state same-sex marriage should be treated by Maryland courts as worthy of divorce, according to the applicable statues, reported cases, and court rules of this state.”

The new ruling came about after Judge A. Michael Chapdelaine refused to grant an uncontested divorce to a lesbian couple living in Maryland that were legally married in California. The judge in that action refused to grant the uncontested divorce to the two women because he maintained that the marriage was not valid and contrary to the public policy of Maryland. That ruling caused the Maryland Court of Appeals to take up the case arguing that Maryland had to grant a divorce to the two women because the state had already accepted the validity of other marriages that were not legal under Maryland laws and cited prior several cases to illustrate the point.

In its ruling, the Court of Appeals wrote “Under the principles of the doctrine of comity applied in our State, Maryland courts will withhold recognition of a valid foreign marriage only if that marriage is ‘repugnant’ to state public policy. This threshold, a high bar, has not been met yet; no still viable decision by this Court has deemed a valid foreign marriage to be ‘repugnant,’ despite being void or punishable as a misdemeanor or more serious crime were it performed in Maryland. The present case will be treated no differently.”

The decision marks a new stance in the Maryland court system and is expected to open the door for the state to go farther than simply recognizing out-of-state same-sex marriages and allow unrestricted same-sex marriages and divorces in the state in the future. Maryland’s governor has already signed legislation that will legalize same-sex marriages this year unless the opposition from anti-gay groups is able to block the law from taking effect.

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