Same-Sex Marriage in Maryland
Like most of the rest of the country, legal rights for same-sex couples have been slow in coming. There are only a handful of states that have formally expanded the definition of marriage, which has traditionally been defined as the union between a woman and a man.
But can more states accommodate a broader definition?
That was the question facing voters in Maryland and in three other states in the November 2012 election. These states (Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington), in one way or another all voted “no” when asked to shoot down same-sex marriage.
What Was at Stake?
In most states, two people who are of the same gender and who express their love and commitment toward each other cannot get married. Therefore, same-sex couples do not have a host of legal rights associated with marriage. (By the same token, same-sex couples cannot get divorced if they separate, which also affects certain legal rights.)
And there are many of these rights.
For example, only opposite-sex couples have the unequivocal right to be present at a loved one’s bedside in the hospital, or in Maryland the right to assume fairness in the equitable distribution of property and assets (like the division of retirement benefits) during divorce.
Until recently, when it came to same-sex couples in Maryland, all bets were off.
That is, until state lawmakers passed the Civil Marriage Protection Act of 2012, which allowed gay and lesbian couples to get married. This gave same-sex couples another option besides domestic partnership. It leveled the playing field. At the same time, it confirmed the right of religious institutions and members of clergy to choose whether or not to conduct marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples.
But the law was not free of opposition.
The Maryland Marriage Alliance gathered enough signatures to put the question to a vote. It became known as “Question 6” on the ballot, and it put at stake what many perceive to be a positive step toward marriage equality.
Question 6: Voters Cast Their Ballots
Question 6 was a ballot initiative asking voters whether they were for or against the law. The Maryland Marriage Alliance, which opposed same-sex marriage, asked citizens to vote against it. The Marylanders for Marriage Equality, in support, asked citizens to vote in its favor.
On November 6, 2012, 52 percent of Maryland voters chose to uphold the Civil Marriage Protection Act, making Maryland one of the first states, along with Maine and Washington, to uphold same-sex marriage by popular vote. (And in Minnesota, voters declined to pass a constitutional amendment that would have defined marriage as between one man and one woman.)
“On Election Day,” according to the blog of the Marylanders for Marriage Equality, “Marylanders across the state stood up and affirmed our longstanding tradition of supporting fairness and equality.”
How Will This Change Maryland Family Law?
Essentially, what was already in place (the Civil Marriage Protection Act) will be allowed to go into effect when the New Year arrives, meaning that same-sex couples can get married in 2013. They’ll have the same rights as married opposite-sex couples. If there’s a problem related to divorce or family law, same-sex couples will no longer be treated like unmarried couples in family court.
And, on a broader level, Maryland’s vote for Question 6 confirms that public opinion in the state is currently trending toward expanding – rather than constricting – the definition of marriage in the early 21st century.