MARYLAND

Maryland gay divorce hearing, ruling could set precedent

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - Maryland routinely grants divorces for couples who married in other states, and same-sex couples should be no different, lawyers for a lesbian couple told the state's highest court Friday.

The case involves two women who were married in California and denied a divorce in 2010 by a Maryland judge who said the marriage was not valid in the state.

Maryland does not currently allow same-sex weddings, but lawyers for the women told the seven-member court that it would be unprecedented for the state not to recognize gay marriages performed elsewhere.

"If you're validly married somewhere else, the rule in Maryland is your marriage is going to be respected in Maryland, and that's what we're asking the court to do here," said Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights in San Francisco.

Judges in Maryland have been inconsistent about granting divorces for gay couples. Lawyers said judges have granted divorces for about half a dozen gay couples, but their clients and at least two other couples were denied.

As a result, some couples are waiting for a ruling from Maryland's high court before filing for divorce, the lawyers said.

The Court of Appeals' ultimate decision may have limited effect because same-sex weddings, and by extension divorces, are set to start in the state in January.

Opponents of the law passed this year are seeking to overturn it in a potential voter referendum.

The high court's judges asked about that potential referendum and its effect on the current case. Lawyers said the outcome of any referendum was not relevant.

They said it will only address whether voters want to allow same-sex marriages in Maryland, not whether the state should recognize same-sex unions performed elsewhere.

Even if voters decide not to allow same-sex marriages, state courts should grant divorces for same-sex couples, the lawyers said.

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