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Judge Exempts Same-Sex Spouse From Testifying

Judge Exempts Same-Sex Spouse From Testifying

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Legally wed same-sex spouses do not have to testify against each other in court, a Maryland judge ruled Thursday, leading to the acquittal of a woman charged with assaulting her wife.

Washington County Circuit Court judge Donald E. Beachley ruled that Sha'rron Snowden (pictured, left) could invoke her spousal privilege not to testify against Deborah Snowden (right), who was charged with second-degree assault and reckless endangerment after being accused of threatening to kill Sha'rron with a knife last December, reports The Herald-Mail of Hagerstown, Md.

The women, who live in Williamsport, Md., were wed in Washington, D.C., last August. Beachley ruled that under the "principle of comity" -- legal reciprocity between states -- Maryland could recognize the validity of a marriage as long as it was valid where it took place. Washington began licensing same-sex marriages in March 2010. Maryland has no law specifically prohibiting recognition of such unions, and last year the state's attorney general issued an opinion saying Maryland could recognize them.

The Snowden trial began in April, but Beachley suspended it when Sha'rron invoked spousal privilege, then asked both the prosecuting and defense attorneys to submit arguments on whether that should be available to legally married same-sex spouses. Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union also submitted a joint brief to the court supporting the granting of spousal privilege.

"To not allow them the same privileges of other traditional marriages denies them the rights they seek when they get married," defense attorney Carl Somerlock told reporters after the hearing on the privilege matter. That was the only claim the defense made, not that prosecutors or police had done anything wrong in the case, he said. Prosecutor Joseph Michael had argued against recognition of the marriage and told reporters that it was important to have Sha'rron Snowden's testimony.

After Beachley decided the privilege question, Sha'rron Snowden was called to the stand to testify and invoked the privilege once more. The judge agreed that she did not have to testify, and he granted the defense's motion for acquittal of Deborah Snowden. He said, however, that he would grant the privilege this time only, not if there were further incidents, and advised the couple to obtain counseling.

As the two women left the courthouse, they held hands and declined to answer reporters' questions.

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Trudy Ring

Trudy Ring is The Advocate’s senior politics editor and copy chief. She has been a reporter and editor for daily newspapers and LGBTQ+ weeklies/monthlies, trade magazines, and reference books. She is a political junkie who thinks even the wonkiest details are fascinating, and she always loves to see political candidates who are groundbreaking in some way. She enjoys writing about other topics as well, including religion (she’s interested in what people believe and why), literature, theater, and film. Trudy is a proud “old movie weirdo” and loves the Hollywood films of the 1930s and ’40s above all others. Other interests include classic rock music (Bruce Springsteen rules!) and history. Oh, and she was a Jeopardy! contestant back in 1998 and won two games. Not up there with Amy Schneider, but Trudy still takes pride in this achievement.
Trudy Ring is The Advocate’s senior politics editor and copy chief. She has been a reporter and editor for daily newspapers and LGBTQ+ weeklies/monthlies, trade magazines, and reference books. She is a political junkie who thinks even the wonkiest details are fascinating, and she always loves to see political candidates who are groundbreaking in some way. She enjoys writing about other topics as well, including religion (she’s interested in what people believe and why), literature, theater, and film. Trudy is a proud “old movie weirdo” and loves the Hollywood films of the 1930s and ’40s above all others. Other interests include classic rock music (Bruce Springsteen rules!) and history. Oh, and she was a Jeopardy! contestant back in 1998 and won two games. Not up there with Amy Schneider, but Trudy still takes pride in this achievement.