By Kimberly A.C. Wilson
February 21, 2004
"I want all of the full benefits of marriage," said Jean Carr, 54, an HIV researcher for a U.S. Army contractor who was married six days ago to her partner of 23 years. "When I held the certificate in my hands, it felt like it carried the full weight of our commitment as well as rights."
Carr and her partner, Este Armstrong, of Gaithersburg and Erwin Gomez and James Packard of Rockville were among more than 3,000 same-sex couples wed since Feb. 12 in San Francisco's City Hall. The validity of the marriages is the subject of several legal challenges in California.
Now home in Montgomery County, both couples are hoping to gain the social and economic benefits of marriage here. But neither is ready to star in a lawsuit like the ones that set in motion the recent gay marriage debate in Massachusetts.
On Wednesday, however, Carr and Packard plan to testify in the House Judiciary Committee in Annapolis against two pieces of legislation that would ensure the weddings would never be recognized in Maryland.
The head of Maryland's largest gay rights organization says the state is probably not the best place to mount a judicial claim to same-sex marriage. "A legal challenge probably isn't prudent," said Dan Furmansky, executive director of Equality Maryland. "Maryland is not San Francisco, and we need to wait and see how this issue plays out in the rest of the country."
But, says David Rocah, staff attorney for the ACLU of Maryland, gay couples ought to have the legal rights married couples take for granted.
"There are inheritance rights, the ability to plan for the future, to know that your children will be considered their children, the ability to visit a loved one in the hospital," Rocah said. "Gay people want that safety like everybody else."
He wouldn't say if the organization is looking for a test case to take to court. "There's obviously a public debate going on about whether or not to end discrimination against gay and lesbian couples, and we're always looking for stories from people who've been affected by that discrimination," he said.
Maryland is surrounded by states that bar same-sex marriages: Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and Delaware have passed laws that void out-of-state gay marriages and make contractual rights from civil unions unenforceable. States like Maryland, without outright bans, are generally seen as more favorable to legal challenge.
Carr and Anderson, 60, have three children, a rancher and two dogs. Gomez, 39, and Packard, 35, have sons, a pair of poodles and a townhouse.
Packard and Gomez, who have lived together since 1995, flew to Amsterdam six years ago to be married in a religious ceremony. They caught a red-eye Monday night, this time bound for Oakland, Calif. Arriving at City Hall in the middle of the night, Packard curled up on the sidewalk to hold the couple's place in line.
"In Amsterdam, we were prepared," Packard said yesterday. "We wore tuxedos. We looked perfect. But this time, I slept on concrete. It wasn't about what we wore. ... We just wanted to get married because it sticks up for our rights."
Carr and Packard plan to speak against two initiatives aimed at affirming traditional marriage.
The first, by Del. Charles R. Boutin, a Republican who represents Cecil and Harford counties, contains a constitutional amendment voters would have to approve that would establish that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid in the state. The second bill, sponsored by Del. Emmett C. Burns Jr., a Baltimore County Democrat, would render invalid in Maryland same-sex marriages performed in another state or foreign country.
"The bag of worms has been opening very slowly, but I think it's about to explode now," said Odeana R. Neal, who teaches a sexual orientation and the law class at the University of Baltimore Law School.
"There are very extensive economic and noneconomic rights that married people have that gay couples do not."
Heterosexual married couples can transfer their assets to a surviving partner upon death, while same-sex couples are subject to estate taxes and other financial penalties. If a partner dies, same-sex couples -- unlike their married counterparts -- are ineligible for survivor benefits from Social Security or other retirement plans. And health benefits offered to government employees in the 11 states that recognize domestic partners are taxed as income for same-sex couples but not for heterosexual couples.
"I should be carrying her health insurance," said Carr, "but it costs more for me to do that than it would if we were married."
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