First marriage licenses issued to Maryland same-sex couples
Cheers and happy tears as couples apply to marry under new law
Nancy Eddy, 34, left, and Jessie Weber, 30, who live in Charles Village, are among the first same-sex couples in Maryland to receive a marriage license. They display their license in the Mitchell Courthouse. (Baltimore Sun photo by Kim Hairston / December 6, 2012)
“I’ll marry you today,” a Baltimore circuit judge happily told the two women, who were among the first same-sex couples to get a marriage license on Thursday, the first day they became available under a new Maryland law upheld by voters in November.
Actually, same-sex couples have to wait until Jan. 1 to wed, when the law expanding marriage rights to gays and lesbians takes effect. But an opinion by Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler gave Circuit Court clerks the option of issuing postdated licenses starting Thursday, when Gov. Martin O’Malley officially confirmed the passage of the same-sex marriage referendum along with other election results.
While Weber, 30, and Eddy, 34, had already affirmed their partnership this summer before 150 invited guests, getting the license to marry proved to be an emotional experience. There were hugs and happy tears, and pictures with the court staff who processed their applications.
“It’s important from a legal standpoint, to have the protections of marriage. But even more than that, it’s affirming to be recognized by the state,” said Weber, a lawyer. “Our ceremony was with our community, our family, our friends, but this feels like being with the entire state. So this is really special.”
The Charles Village residents and their friends, Alli Harper and Jennifer Monti of Timonium, were the first two same-sex couples to arrive at the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse downtown when it opened at 8:30 a.m. All four had volunteered countless hours in the successful campaign to pass Question 6, making the documents they received Thursday more than pieces of paper.
“I started tearing up when I saw the marriage license,” said Harper, 34, a lawyer. “All of a sudden, it’s right there in front of you.”
For Harper, who is president of the board of directors of the Maryland ACLU, which fought for marriage equality, getting a license to marry Monti was both a political and personal victory.
“I think ever since the [election] results came in, we were feeling enormous gratitude to everyone who worked so hard to make this happen,” she said. “And then to raise your right hand and swear that everything on the application is true, it’s pretty powerful.”
She and Monti, 32, a physician, have already had a partnership ceremony. “March 20, 2010,” Harper said, eliciting from Monti, “That is correct. Thank you for remembering.” They didn’t know if or when Maryland would expand marriage rights, and they wanted to start a family. As it turned out, Harper’s father died unexpectedly a couple of weeks later, so they are relieved they didn’t wait for the law to catch up with them.
Now, with Harper eight months pregnant, they anticipate telling their daughter and any subsequent generations about being part of the first wave of same-sex marriages in Maryland.
Eddy, a palliative care social worker, also had the future in mind on Thursday, envisioning a time when getting a marriage license won’t be a novelty for gay couples.
“This is another step in being treated equally,” she said. “It’s acceptance. We want to be able to show our kids what it was like when it was a big deal to get a license. Hopefully they won’t get it.”
For now, she and Weber will dig out the glass that they stomped in the Jewish ceremony they had this summer, but didn’t manage to shatter, for a second wedding they plan to have at home the second week in January.
There was a slight delay in getting her license as staff worked with a newly revised computer program used to process and record marriage licenses. The program changed terms like “man” and “woman” to “Party 1” and “Party 2,” for example, and staff had to manually override the effective date of the licenses.
Normally, licenses go into effect after a two-day “cooling-off” period — a vestige of when Maryland cracked down on the “marriage mills” of Elkton and other areas where anyone could get a license and marry in the same day, Gansler’s opinion noted.
Other states are similarly revising their marriage procedures: In Washington state, where voters also approved a same-sex marriage law, a Seattle court shortly after midnight Thursday issued a marriage license to a lesbian couple. In Maine, the third state that passed a gay marriage law on Election Day, the measure takes effect on Dec. 29, a Saturday, and several cities have announced they will open their offices at 12:01 a.m. to issue marriage licenses and perform wedding ceremonies. (There is no waiting period in Maine.)
In Maryland, most of the state’s 24 Circuit Courts planned to begin issuing licenses Thursday, said Sandra K. Dalton, chairwoman of the state’s Conference of Circuit Court Clerks, who serves that role in Frederick County.
A few courts, though, were still working on making necessary changes. Harford County Circuit Court Clerk James Reilly said his office was working to develop an “internal administrative process” and would begin taking applications on Dec. 12. In Prince George’s County, a computer glitch that should be fixed in the next couple of days should allow for licenses to be issued, said David J. Billings, chief deputy clerk.