Unanimous ruling of high court in divorce proceeding says out-of-state marriages are entitled to recognition
(Annapolis, MD May 18, 2012)—The National Center for Lesbian Rights and Lambda Legal applaud a ruling today by the Maryland Court of Appeals, the highest court in the state, granting a divorce to a same-sex couple, Virginia Cowan and Jessica Port, who were married outside of Maryland. The 7-0 unanimous ruling declares that married same-sex couples are entitled to divorce under Maryland law.
"There are many same-sex spouses who married elsewhere who now live in Maryland," said National Center for Lesbian Rights Legal Director Shannon Minter. "This ruling ensures that they have all the same rights as any other married couple in Maryland. This is a powerful decision that will provide enormous security and protection to thousands of families."
Susan Sommer, Director of Constitutional Litigation at Lambda Legal, added: "The high court of Maryland confirmed today in this divorce case that out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples are entitled to legal recognition under longstanding principles of comity, allowing this couple the same access to a divorce as other married couples whose relationships have ended. The Court of Appeals’ ruling establishes that Maryland law respects marriages of same-sex couples entered elsewhere, bringing clarity to the legal recognition due these marriages."
Jessica Port and Virginia Anne Cowan met in Maryland and then married in San Francisco, California in 2008. Unfortunately, their relationship broke down and they made the difficult decision to separate and seek a divorce. In July 2010, after they had been separated for a year, Cowan filed a petition for divorce. The trial court found that although Port and Cowan met all the requirements for divorce under Maryland law and both wished to divorce, it would not grant a divorce because, according to the court, it would be against public policy to do so. In April 2012, National Center for Lesbian Rights, on behalf of Ms. Port, and Lambda Legal, on Ms. Cowan’s behalf, argued their case before the Maryland Court of Appeals.
Ruling that the divorce should be granted, the court cited to the 2010 opinion of Attorney General Douglas Gansler confirming that, under longstanding Maryland law, out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples receive legal respect and should be treated like any other marriage. The court also discussed the many ways in which the state government already recognized these marriages. The court relied on longstanding legal precedent that says couples who have been legally married in another state are treated under Maryland law as validly married, even if the marriages could not be performed in Maryland.
Earlier this year, the Maryland legislature passed a law permitting same-sex couples to marry. That legislation is scheduled to go into effect January 1, 2013, subject to the outcome of a possible referendum. The Court of Appeals ruled that, regardless of whether same-sex couples are allowed to marry in Maryland, independent legal principles require out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples to be respected in the state.
Jessica Port is represented on appeal by Michele Zavos, Zavos Juncker Law Group PLLC and Shannon Minter of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. Virginia Anne Cowan is represented by Mark Scurti and Leslie Stellman, Pessin, Katz Law, P.A. and Susan Sommer, Director of Constitutional Litigation at Lambda Legal.