Maryland is latest state to embrace dignity of same-sex couples

Continuing an extraordinary month in the advancement of marriage equality for all loving committed couples, the Maryland State Legislature on Feb. 23 completed its debate on recognizing same-sex marriages with a resounding victory. The state Senate today voted 25-22 to approve the legislation.

Coming just weeks after a similarly successful debate in Washington state, and the 9th Circuit Court’s decision against California’s same-sex marriage ban, Maryland lawmakers continued what has been a breathtaking wave of progress in recognizing the fundamental right of consenting adults to establish legal protections for their families regardless of sexual orientation.

“In our son Matt’s memory, my husband Dennis and I have worked for many years through the Foundation to ensure that every American is treated the same under the law, whether they are gay or lesbian, bisexual, transgender or just seen that way by others,” said Judy Shepard, co-founder and president of the Matthew Shepard Foundation.

“When it took over 10 years to get basic hate crimes prevention legislation at the federal level, progress felt so frustratingly slow,” Shepard noted. “To see so many advances take place in just a few weeks is really uplifting and gives us hope that we have really turned a corner in how this country views the dignity of our LGBT citizens.”

Given Governor Martin O’Malley’s pledge to support the legislation, Maryland would join New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Iowa, Massachusetts, Connecticut and the District of Columbia in allowing same-sex couples to marry, if the Maryland measure survives a potential voter referendum in the fall and goes into effect on schedule in January 2013.

Washington state also enacted marriage equality legislation in recent weeks and it too is expected to face a referendum on the ballot this fall before it can take effect. Meanwhile, ballot issues to constitutionally ban same-sex marriage are currently advancing in Minnesota and North Carolina.

In Maryland, the process has unfolded for more than a year. Governor O’Malley strongly supported the bill in 2011 when it passed the state Senate but failed to pass the House of Delegates. Last Friday the bill passed the House 72-67 with a number of delegates changing their votes from last year. Del. John Bohanan (D) was one who switched his position. “Once I began to look at this through the eyes of my own kids and other young people, it became pretty clear,” Bohanan said in an interview with the Washington Post. “You want them to have love, and if that’s how they want to express it, you want them to be able to do it openly.”

State recognition of same-sex marriages still does not guarantee federal recognition of those marriages due to the 1996 “Defense of Marriage Act.” Congressional or federal judiciary action would be required in order for same-sex marriages to guarantee the wide array of marriage-dependent federal rights ranging from Social Security benefits to joint tax-filing status.

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