TOWSON, Md. — Two Baltimore County police officers who were denied health benefits for their same-sex spouses, were notified Tuesday that an independent arbitrator had ruled that the county had violated the terms of their police union contract by denying their benefits more than one year ago.
In the ten page opinion, arbitrator Lois Hochhauser agreed with the police union grievances filed on behalf of officers Officers Margaret Selby and Juanika Ballard, maintaining that recognition of same-sex marriages conducted in states where they are legal is “not against the public policy of the State of Maryland.”
The arbitrator also noted that Maryland “has never enacted a law barring same-sex marriages.”
In February, Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler issued a long-awaited opinion on whether same-sex marriages validated in other jurisdictions “may be recognized” under Maryland state law. “The answer to that question,” wrote Gansler, in an opinion dated February 23 “is clearly ‘yes’.”
Selby and Ballard filed their grievances in August 2010, with support from the police union, as well legal advocacy group Lambda Legal. They claimed the county had violated the terms of their union contract when the deducted premiums from their paychecks for spousal coverage, and then reversed course and denied the benefits.
The county argued that Maryland law prohibits the recognition of same-sex marriages, based on the law that says “only a marriage between a man and a woman is valid in this state,” reported the Baltimore Sun.
The union argued that Maryland common law principles “recognize out-of-state marriage provided the marriage is valid in the jurisdiction where it took place,” as the arbitrator described the case.
The arbitrator agreed with the union, holding that the recognition of same-sex marriages conducted in states where they are legal is “not against the public policy of the State of Maryland.” Tuesday’s ruling means that the county must provide health benefits to the women whom they each married out of state during the summer of 2009.
“I’m very happy and my family is very happy,” said Selby, 47, who works on patrol in the Essex precinct and has been with the department for 10 years. “I just want the same benefits that are provided to other married couples in the department.”
Ballard, 32, a patrol officer in the Franklin precinct who joined the force in 2000, said she was looking forward to “being able to take care of my family, and not be worried about things I was worried about before. I appreciate that I can be treated fairly,” said Ballard. “I was optimistic that equality would prevail.”
Donald I. Mohler III, a spokesman for Baltimore County, said the county has the right to appeal the decision, but could not say if the county’s lawyers would advise that.