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March 5, 2011

Same Sex Marriage Battle Takes Shape

As a Maryland divorce and family law attorney and former member of the House of Delegates, the actions of the General Assembly are always of interest. The 2011 session has more than its share of drama. I was surprised by the defeat of Senate Bill 116, the Civil Marriage Protection Act that would have expanded marriage to same sex couples. You can be sure that a bill that came so close to passage in 2011 will be back next year. The battle in the Maryland General Assembley has aroused passion from both sides. The opponents are prepared to take any bill to referendum if and when it is passed.

Article XVI of the Maryland Constitution requires that opponents of a bill obtain signatures of registered voters equal in number to 3% of the number of voters in the last gubernatorial election. This means approximately 55,000 valid signatures would be required. The deadline for filing at least 1/3 of the required signatures would be June 1 following the legislative session in which the bill is passed. The remainder would be due by the 30th of the same month. If the required signatures are obtained, the law would not go into effect until 30 days after it has been approved by a majority of the voters in the next election. Maryland would be the first state to obtain voter approval for same sex marriage.

Maryland courts have refused to wade into this issue. A deeply divided Court of Appeals in Conaway v. Deane held that there is no right to same sex marriage under the Maryland Constitution.

Maryland family law attorneys have some time to ponder best practices as it relates to same sex marriage. There are myriad issues that will arise because such marriages may not be recognized by the federal government and many other states. In a state with a large number of federal and military personnel, Maryland family law practitioners will need to keep a sharp eye on federal employment benefits laws and regulations that are likely to remain in a state of flux.