Judge says law 'cannot withstand constitutional challenge'
The Associated Press
January 20, 2006, 10:49 AM EST
A Baltimore Circuit Court judge ruled today that Maryland's law against same-sex marriage "cannot withstand constitutional challenge," a key ruling in the volatile national debate on gay rights.
"After much study and serious reflection, this court holds that Maryland's statutory prohibition against same-sex marriage cannot withstand constitutional challenge," Judge M. Brooke Murdock wrote in her decision.
In the lawsuit, filed in July 2004, nine same-sex couples contended that Maryland's 1973 law stating that only a marriage between a man and a woman is valid violates their constitutional rights. The suit named Baltimore City Clerk Frank Conaway and clerks in four other jurisdictions -- Prince George's, St. Mary's, Dorchester and Washington counties -- for refusing to issue marriage licenses to the plaintiffs.
The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation in New York, the ACLU's Maryland affiliate and local attorneys collaborated on the complaint.
While lawyers from the Maryland attorney general's office defended the court clerks named in the suit, the state's prohibition on same-sex marriages is backed by many religious leaders and conservative lawmakers.
Murdock's decision is expected to be appealed to Maryland's highest court, the Court of Appeals.
States are clearly not in agreement about gay rights. While legal challenges are pending in a handful of states, 19 states have constitutional amendments banning gay marriage. Only Massachusetts allows gay marriage.
In January 2005, clergy from around Maryland organized the "Defend Maryland Marriage" rally in front of the State House, calling for the legislature to adopt a constitutional ban on gay marriage. The General Assembly did not act on the proposal.
Instead, lawmakers passed several bills to afford more benefits to gay and lesbian couples -- including giving gays protection under the state's hate-crime statute, and giving domestic partners the right to make medical decisions for their partners. Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. signed the hate-crime measure but vetoed the medical decision-making bill.
Those legislative actions were victories for gay-rights advocates, who hailed Maryland's legislative session as second only to Connecticut in its success. Connecticut lawmakers moved to allow civil unions, which confer some, but not all, of the benefits of legal marriage.
Sun reporter Kelly Brewington contributed to this article.
Copyright (c) 2006, The Associated Press