MARYLAND

Maryland gay divorce hearing, ruling could set precedent

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They cited Wyoming and New Mexico as states with similar practices. The case involves Maryland resident Jessica Port and District of Columbia resident Virginia Anne Cowan.

Port, 29, and Cowan, 32, were married in California in 2008 during a window in which gay marriage was legal there.

Almost two years later, the couple filed for divorce in Maryland, where they both then lived.

Prince George's County Judge A. Michael Chapdelaine declined to grant it.

"The court finds that to recognize the alleged marriage would be contrary to the public policy of Maryland," Chapdelaine wrote.

Lawyers for Port and Cowan told the Court of Appeals that Chapdelaine was wrong.

Maryland has long recognized marriages entered into in other states, they said, even if Maryland itself has barred those marriages.

For example, Maryland law bars an uncle and a niece from marrying, but the state will recognize that marriage if it legally occurred in another state. Unlike other states, Maryland has no ban on recognizing same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions.

Moreover, in 2010 state Attorney General Douglas Gansler issued an opinion that said out-of-state, same-sex marriages may be recognized under Maryland law.

As a result, state agencies have extended benefits to same-sex spouses of state employees and issued birth certificates that recognize the same-sex spouse of a woman who gives birth as a parent. In recent years, judges in Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Texas and Rhode Island have refused to grant gay couples divorces.

Responding to those cases, California and the District of Columbia recently passed laws allowing gay couples married in their jurisdictions to divorce there if their home state will not dissolve the marriage.

Lawyers for Port and Cowen said they hope not to have to resort to trying to use those laws, which could cost the couple more time and money.

They said they hope the Court of Appeals will make a decision in the next several months.

"We both want to move forward with our lives," Port said. Six states and the District of Columbia currently permit gay couples to marry.

Those states are Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont. Lawmakers in Washington state have also passed a law permitting gay couples to marry, but it doesn't take effect until June and could be put on hold by a proposed voter referendum seeking to overturn the law.

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