ANNAPOLIS, Md. — The Maryland Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, on Friday ruled that same-sex couples married out of state are legally permitted to seek a divorce in the state, even though Maryland does not yet permit same-sex marriages.
In the case brought before the court, two women who were married in California during the time period when same-sex marriage was legal in 2008, were denied a divorce in 2010 by Prince George’s County General District Court Judge A. Michael Chapdelaine.
In the unanimous decision, detailed in a 21-page ruling, the justices wrote:
“A valid out-of-state same-sex marriage should be treated by Maryland courts as worthy of divorce, according to the applicable statues, reported cases, and court rules of this state.”
Jessica Port, one of the parties in the divorce case, said the ruling made her two-and-a-half year legal battle worth the trouble, reported the Associated Press.
“This is a huge step for gay rights and same-sex marriage in Maryland,” she said.
Unlike other states, Maryland has no ban on recognizing same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions. In 2010, state Attorney General Doug Gansler issued an opinion that said out-of-state, same-sex marriages may be recognized under Maryland law.
Friday’s ruling may have limited effect because same-sex weddings, and by extension divorces, are set to start in the state in January.
However, opponents of the law passed this year hope to force a November voter referendum that could overturn it. Opponents need to collect nearly 56,000 signatures by the end of June to put the question on the ballot.
Michele Zavos, Port’s attorney, cheered the ruling, because now Maryland will at least recognize same-sex marriages from other states, regardless of the outcome of a referendum, even if opponents successfully get enough signatures to put the law on the ballot and it is overturned by voters.
“Maryland’s referendum laws cannot overturn a Court of Appeals decision,” Zavos said. “That decision can only be overturned by the Legislature, and given the Legislature passed marriage, I think that we can expect that this decision will remain the law of Maryland.”