Gay marriage defeat leaves couples crestfallen

March 13, 2011

Ken Goodman’s fondest wish was to return to Silver Spring with the man he has been with for 15 years and get married in front of his childhood friends and his parents.

Goodman and Michael Meyer, a hospital administrator, have wed three times before — in Canada, California and in the District on the steps of the Supreme Court. Los Angeles is Goodman’s home now, but Silver Spring is still his hometown.

So Goodman, co-owner of an investment firm, listened on the Web on Friday as the Maryland House of Delegates debated same-sex marriage, his heart sinking when the bill was effectively killed for the year.

“I heard some people say they weren’t comfortable with the idea of same-sex marriage,” he said, describing himself as “crushed” and wavering between bitterness and sadness. “That word burns me. They weren’t comfortable with the idea of our civil rights? How long are we supposed to wait for our civil rights for their comfort? How much longer?”

Across Maryland and beyond, gay and lesbian couples expressed dismay and disappointment at the defeat of same-sex marriage — and a determination to bring up the issue again next year. Because the state is relatively liberal, many had expected the bill to pass. Some had even allowed themselves to begin thinking about a venue for their nuptials, and how many guests to invite.

“I was hoping to be even prouder to say, ‘I’m a Marylander,’ but I can’t say that now,” said Larry Burkhart, a nuclear engineer who followed the debate on Twitter from Paris, where he lives with a Frenchman he wants to marry and bring home to Rockville. “That’s a big disappointment.”

Nobody knows for certain how many Maryland couples are affected by the bill’s defeat. In a statistic that experts say they think is low, the 2000 Census counted 11,000 Maryland households headed by same-sex couples.

For now, same-sex marriages legally performed in other jurisdictions, including the District, are recognized by the state under an opinion issued last year by state Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D) .

Some couples say that’s good enough for now, and they will continue to wait for a legal same-sex marriage in Maryland.

“We’ll be back again next year,” said Jennifer Monti, 30, a Baltimore physician who had a commitment ceremony with Alli Harper last year. The women have been talking about starting a family, and wanted the legal protections and benefits that marriage provides.

“This stuff takes a long time,” Monti said. “It hasn’t been on the map for too long, and we made lots of progress already.”

David Robinson, a meeting planner who lives in Montgomery County, said he and his partner of 15 years had started talking about the kind of wedding they wanted, and who would officiate. They’ll keep waiting, making sure they have their wills and medical powers of attorney updated.

“I’m disappointed on a personal level,” Robinson said, “but I’m not discouraged. Same-sex marriage eventually will come. Till then, it’s going to be Connecticut, and Iowa, and here and there, until we get the momentum for it. The more and more states it’s a reality in, the more it no longer is unthinkable.”

Others feel a greater urgency, and have pivoted from planning weddings in Maryland to making plans in the District, which legalized same-sex marriages a year ago.

As soon as Maryland lawmakers rejected the same-sex marriage bill, Burkhart began researching District rules for issuing marriage licenses. He plans to return later this year with the Frenchman he entered into a legal civil union with last month in Paris.

A Navy vet­eran, Burkhart worked for the federal government before taking a temporary assignment with a multinational organization in Paris. He plans to return to his government job, and his house in Rockville. They had hoped a marriage in Maryland would bolster the green card application for his partner.

“We would rather have gotten married in Maryland,” he said. “That’s where my home is, and my family and all my friends are. It would have been more meaningful.”

Those who already have married outside of the state know the shortcomings. Every time they cross state lines their legal status changes.

Sally Wall and Patricia Montley were married in Canada in 2004, after a quarter-century of being together. But they never know whether they will be questioned when one of them is in the hospital, the way heterosexual spouses rarely are.

“If we go to a Catholic hospital, are they going to recognize our marriage just because the attorney general says they should?” said Montley, 68, a retired theater professor.

In their 31 years together, the women have seen a sea change in attitudes toward lesbians and gays. Even so, they still encounter consternation and sometimes condemnation. Montley said that she and her mother have been estranged since the Baltimore Sun published a 2009 column that Montley and Wall wrote about their relationship, with the headline “We’re just like you.”

A bookshelf in their living room in suburban Baltimore holds their wedding album of white handmade paper with pink flowers. Among the souvenirs of their ceremony in Stratford, Ontario, is a note that the theater management left on their seats before a production of Shakespeare, congratulating them on their marriage.

“We had a wonderful experience,” said Wall, 65, a psychology professor. “But it seemed hollow as soon as we crossed the border, because suddenly we weren’t married.”

Carol Morello writes about demographics and the census, as well as a lot of other stuff that comes down the pike. She has worked at the Washington Post since 2000.
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