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Maryland judge
strikes down same-sex marriage ban

Maryland judge
strikes down same-sex marriage ban


Marriage equality in Maryland came one step closer to reality on Friday when a circuit court judge declared a 33-year-old law banning same-sex marriage in that state unconstitutional.

Is full marriage equality on the horizon for gay and lesbian couples in Maryland? It came one step closer to reality on Friday when a circuit court judge declared a 33-year-old law banning same-sex marriage in that state unconstitutional. Baltimore city circuit court judge Brooke Murdock sided with 19 gay men and women in their lawsuit seeking marriage rights. The suit was filed in 2004 with the American Civil Liberties Union and Equality Maryland. "When tradition is the guise under which prejudice or animosity hides, it is not a legitimate state interest," Murdock wrote in her ruling. "The court is not unaware of the dramatic impact of its ruling, but it must not shy away from deciding significant legal issues when fairly presented to it for judicial determination." Murdock put a stay on her decision in order to allow the state time to appeal, which it already has, said Paul Cates, director of public education for the lesbian and gay rights project at the ACLU. Both Cates and Steven Palmer, one of the plaintiffs in the case, described this as a positive step. "This is a good thing, because if there was no appeal, the plaintiffs in the case would be the only ones to get marriage licenses," said Palmer, 34, who sued the state with his 32-year old partner, Ryan Killough. "Until the decision is appealed and the [1973] law is fully struck down, we won't have marriage rights for all Marylanders." Palmer told that the impetus for his joining the suit was a growing awareness of the inequality of the situation. "Because my partner and I are both in health care--I'm a flight nurse, and Ryan is a paramedic--we see all the rights and legal protections people get through marriage, especially in terms of health care and coverage. Right now we don't have any of that." Same-sex marriage would be legalized in Maryland if the state's high court of appeals upholds Friday's decision, but according to Cates, there's a possible hitch. If the plaintiff's case is directed to an intermediate appeals court, it would need to clear that court, in addition to the high court of appeals, to become law. "We don't know which court it will go to," Cates said. "We'll probably know in a few weeks or a month or so. It will probably be a year before we have a [final] decision." Cates added that the ACLU is prepared for a negative backlash from far-right groups and conservative lawmakers. "We think we can hold legislation from passing any sort of amendment that might disturb this ruling," he said. Friday's victory came as Maryland's Republican governor, Robert Ehrlich, announced a plan that would allow domestic partners more power over medical decisions for their significant others. It remains unclear whether the governor's legislation will influence the marriage case. Some state Democrats were not happy, however, declaring Ehrlich's move a political ploy because the legislation lacks many protections and comes on the heels of their successful attempt on Thursday to change state rules making it harder for Republicans to enact antigay laws. "A bridal registry at Target would offer same-sex couples more benefits than this watered-down election-year ploy. It is simply an attempt to keep the Medical Decision Making Act from being sent to [Ehrlich's] desk again," said Eric Stern, executive director of National Stonewall Democrats. "While Governor Ehrlich plays politics in an effort to stop his plummeting poll numbers, we'll continue to work with Maryland Democrats on passing substantive legislation this session." Maryland does not offer either civil or domestic partnerships to same-sex couples, and some gay rights groups hope that Friday's court ruling means they can skip those legal classifications and be allowed to legally marry. "If you want to give people the same rights and legal protections as heterosexual couples, keeping them separate with domestic partnerships doesn't work," Palmer said. "Separate is not equal, and it's not acceptable." (Neal Broverman,

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