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Debate Over Same-Sex Marriage Continues

Divorce is often a complicated matter, and rarely easy for the individuals involved. Imagine, however, being denied a divorce because the state where you filed does not consider your marriage valid in the first place. This is the case of many same-sex couples attempting to divorce in Maryland.

While Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, and Rhode Island allow for civil unions between same-sex couples, only Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, Iowa and the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriages. Consequently, many states, including Maryland, that do not allow for same-sex marriages, will also not grant divorces to married same-sex couples.

To further complicate matters and cloud the issues, different Maryland judges apply the law differently, and have granted divorces to same-sex couples, while other judges have refused, even when both parties consent and there are no issues to litigate.

The judges who refuse to grant a same-sex divorce in Maryland believe that because Maryland does not legally recognize the marriage nor the parties as spouses, there can be no legal divorce. This is small comfort for same-sex married couples who must either remain married or move to a state that recognizes same-sex marriages. Adding to this, in many states it takes a year to establish the residency necessary to file for divorce.

In 2010, the Maryland’s attorney general issued a statement that because many of its neighboring states allow for same-sex marriages, Maryland should recognize same-sex marriages, and in effect, should grant divorces to same-sex couples. The attorney general’s opinion is not binding, but he predicts the Maryland Supreme Court will agree with him.

Many lower court judges still appear to disagree. A judge in Prince George’s County refused to grant divorces to a same-sex couple, as did a judge in Baltimore City. A judge in Anne Arundel County, however, did grant a same-sex divorce.

Partners of same-sex marriages in Maryland who wish to divorce may have to wait for a ruling from Maryland’s higher courts, or for the state legislature to act, before they will know what steps are necessary to obtain a divorce.