One State Won't Budge on Marriage Laws

Maryland law says that marriage can only be between a man and a woman, but that hasn't stopped people from calling court clerks across the state asking about same-sex marriage licenses (search).

Clerks in several counties said they have been getting calls on the subject in the wake of rogue same-sex marriages in California, New York and Oregon.

"My department has been approached by telephone and sometimes an individual has come, but we haven't issued any licenses . . . we haven't knowingly issued any licenses," said Baltimore City Circuit Clerk Frank M. Conaway.

In Dorchester County, there have been some calls, but no formal requests for a license. And no such license would be issued if someone were to ask, said Donna L. Pyle, chief deputy clerk for the county.

The Maryland attorney general's office sent letter to all circuit clerks on Feb. 24 restating Maryland law, which defines marriage "as a union between a man and a woman."

"We have provided this advice to all of the clerks of court," said Jamie St. Onge, a spokeswoman for the attorney general's office.

But that has only started to answer the questions that same-sex marriages in other parts of the country have raised for clerks here.

Conaway asked the attorney general's office Wednesday what he should do if someone "married" in another state came to Maryland and tried to file deeds or other property records as married couples do. He had not received an opinion Friday.

In the Feb. 24 letter, Assistant Attorney General Kathryn Rowe said that state law appears to allow Maryland to recognize "civil unions" (search) performed in other states, but does not appear to force Maryland accept a same-sex marriage from elsewhere. But she cautioned that the courts could rule otherwise.

And in yet another letter, on Feb. 27, Assistant Attorney General Robert Zarnoch told a lawmaker that the attorney general's office would be obligated to defend a state official if someone sued in order to get a same-sex marriage license here.

Dan Furmansky said he does not expect clerks here to give up such a license voluntarily, unlike clerks who have bucked the law in other states.

"I wouldn't anticipate there are any maverick county clerks in Maryland," said Furmansky, the executive director of Equality Maryland (search), the largest gay-rights organization in the state.

And while he is happy that gays are fighting for the same rights, a marriage license issued illicitly might not be the best route for them to take, he said.

"I'm not convinced the issuance of marriage licenses that are invalid would help," Furmansky said.

The outbreak of same-sex marriage ceremonies around the nation has led some lawmakers to propose a federal constitutional amendment that would define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, effectively banning gay marriage.

President Bush endorsed the proposed amendment last month, but it still has a long way to go. Amendments to the Constitution (search) must be approved by two-thirds of the House and Senate, and then be ratified by legislatures in three-fourths of the states within seven years or die.

A similar amendment for the Maryland Constitution has been proposed in the General Assembly.

Until the law changes, however, clerks said there will be no wedding bells for in their courthouses for gays.

"We can't perform a wedding unless it's a man and a woman, it's the law," said Montgomery Circuit Clerk Molly Q. Ruhl. "And I'm here to follow the law."