Md. High Court Poised to Hear Lesbian Divorce Case
WASHINGTON (AP) - Maryland’s highest court is poised to hear arguments in a precedent-setting case involving two women who married in California but were denied a divorce in Maryland, which does not currently allow same-sex weddings.
The Court of Appeals of Maryland in Annapolis was set to hear arguments Friday from lawyers for the lesbian couple who are seeking to end their marriage. A Maryland judge declined to grant their divorce in 2010, basing his decision on the conclusion that the women’s marriage is not valid under Maryland law.
But lawyers for the women disagree, saying the state should recognize gay marriages performed elsewhere even though Maryland does not allow same-sex weddings at the present time. As a result, the couple should be allowed to divorce in the state, the lawyers say.
The high court’s ultimate decision may have limited effect since same-sex weddings, and by extension divorces, are set to start in the state in January 2013 under a law passed this year. But opponents of the new law are seeking to overturn it in a potential voter referendum.
Meanwhile, judges in Maryland are inconsistent about granting divorces for gay couples who married in another state. Lawyers involved in Friday’s case say they believe judges have granted about a half a dozen divorces for gay couples, but their clients, Jessica Port and Virginia Anne Cowan, and at least one other couple were recently denied that.
Divorces "shouldn’t depend on what judge you get," said Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights in San Francisco and one of the attorneys representing Port.
Port and Cowan were married in California in 2008 during a window in which gay marriage was legal in the state. Almost two years later, the couple filed for divorce in Maryland, where Port lives. A hearing in the case before Prince George’s County Judge A. Michael Chapdelaine lasted seven minutes, and in a written ruling a week later he declined to grant the divorce.