Gays laud Maryland decision to recognize same-sex marriages from other places

Barbara Kenny and Tibby Middleton of Frederick, partners for 44 years, might get married in the District.
Barbara Kenny and Tibby Middleton of Frederick, partners for 44 years, might get married in the District. (By Rebecca Drobis For The Washington Post)
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By Tara Bahrampour
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 26, 2010

Same-sex couples and gay rights advocates in Maryland rejoiced Thursday, a day after Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D) said the state will recognize same-sex marriages from other places and ordered state agencies to immediately begin giving gay married couples the same rights as heterosexual couples.

"When I looked at the newspaper headline this morning, I was just stunned," said Tibby Middleton, 71, who lives in Frederick with Barbara Kenny, her partner of 44 years. "I was very moved by it, really. I never thought I would live in any place where I would be treated with dignity and respect."

The announcement comes just a week before the District will begin allowing same-sex marriages, making it possible for Maryland couples to marry locally and be afforded benefits in their home state. Some conservative lawmakers and other opponents of the change are vowing to challenge it, saying Gansler overstepped his authority because he supports legalizing same-sex unions.

Morgan Meneses-Sheets, executive director of Equality Maryland, a gay rights organization, called the decision "a big step forward" and said it has caused a flood of response.

"People have been calling and e-mailing all day; folks are very excited," she said. "Folks are saying, 'What do I do next? What does this mean for me?' "

Maryland has greatly expanded benefits for domestic partners under Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), but many legal and health-care benefits still do not match those afforded heterosexual couples.

Many couples said they wonder in particular whether Gansler's decision will change their tax filing status. Meneses-Sheets said that although the federal status would not change, legal experts are looking into whether it could change on the state level.

Some said the decision was not a surprise, because the attorney general had been working on it since last May, when Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery), who is gay, requested the change.

"We've been expecting it for months, but we didn't know if it was going to be positive or negative," said playwright Pat Montley, 67, of Lutherville, who married psychology professor Sally Wall, 63, in Canada in 2004 after 25 years together.

It is not clear how long it will take for state agencies to comply, Meneses-Sheets said. "Each government agency is going to have to look at the laws," she said, adding that she expects many private companies to follow suit, as has happened in other states that have recognized same-sex unions.

Maryland law defines marriage as being between a man and a woman. It is one of only six states in which laws do not clearly spell out whether to recognize same-sex marriages from elsewhere; 39 states do not acknowledge such unions.

Some are hailing Wednesday's announcement as a step toward allowing same-sex weddings to take place in Maryland. "We feel that there will be some movement in that direction," said Donna Martin of Baltimore, 66, a pastor who married retired carpenter Mary Ross, 69, in California two years ago.

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