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Judge voids Maryland law defining marriage as male-female union
Chicago Tribune/Baltimore Sun
By Kelly Brewington
January 22, 2006

BALTIMORE -- A Circuit Court judge sided with nine gay couples Friday, ruling that Maryland's law defining marriage as being between a man and a woman violates the state's constitution.

But Judge M. Brooke Murdock stayed the order pending an appeal, which was filed immediately by the state attorney general's office.

"Although tradition and societal values are important, they cannot be given so much weight that they alone will justify a discriminatory statutory classification," Murdock ruled. "When tradition is the guise under which prejudice or animosity hides, it is not a legitimate state interest."

Advocates applauded the decision.

"This is one of the fundamental issues of fairness facing our society," said David Rocah, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, which is representing the plaintiffs.

Opponents of gay marriage quickly geared up to fight the judge's decision in the General Assembly and voting booths, saying they will pursue a constitutional amendment.

"It's a sad day for the state of Maryland," said Delegate Don Dwyer Jr., a Republican and leading gay-marriage opponent in the House. "I assure you the majority of Maryland citizens do not agree with this court's decision."

Nine Maryland couples and one individual filed the suit in Baltimore in July 2004, contending that the state's 1973 marriage law is unconstitutional.

Using a strategy successful in Massachusetts -- the only state where same-sex marriage is legal -- the plaintiffs requested marriage licenses from local clerks of courts, and they filed suit after being denied. "We're just amazed," said Lisa Polyak, 44, who with her partner Gitanjali Deane, 43, are the lead plaintiffs in the lawsuit. "We are relieved that finally the court took us seriously, that they recognize us as a legitimate family that needs protection under the law and is entitled to it."

But some plaintiffs remained cautious out of concern that opponents may gain momentum in their push for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

Indeed, lawmakers who have pushed the General Assembly for years to pass such a ban said in interviews Friday that they will move quickly to try again.

"Legislative action will be taken," Dwyer said. "I will fight to the end on this."

Maryland is one of at least six states--the others are Washington, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and California--with pending legal challenges involving same-sex marriage. Another 13 states have adopted constitutional amendments outlawing gay marriage, 11 of which came in the form of ballot referendum during the 2004 election.

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