Calif. has gold ring rush

Same-sex couples in Md. plan to travel across U.S. to tie the knot, despite legal fog at home

June 20, 2008|By Rona Marech | Rona Marech,Sun Reporter

Ken Brown and Jon-Paul Rippetoe haven't worked out all the details of their fall wedding, but they do know a few things: They will hold their ceremony on a mountainside in South Lake Tahoe, Calif. Rippetoe's sister, who will be deputized for the day by the county, will officiate. They will write their own vows separately and read them during the ceremony.

They also know that when they return to Maryland from California, their marriage license will not carry any legal weight. But that is not stopping them from joining a wave of gay and lesbian couples from around the nation who are California-bound in the wake of a May ruling by that state's Supreme Court giving same-sex couples the right to marry.

Because the same-sex marriages commenced Monday evening, hundreds of people have gotten hitched amid a deluge of festivities and some protests.

"Our expectations, honestly, are pretty low. We understand that Maryland doesn't recognize our marriage rights," said Rippetoe, 36. "I think you can describe it as a field that has been through a drought and there's been a little rainstorm. While it's not enough to end the drought, it still feels good. There is somebody, somewhere in our government system saying, 'I recognize this community and I recognize this relationship.' I think it will feel nice to be a part of that."

It's unclear how many Maryland same-sex couples are heading to California to marry - California doesn't track marriage applications by state and doesn't plan to break out the number of same-sex marriages when overall figures are reported in August. But some area couples are making travel plans to take advantage of the chance to publicly declare their commitment, to be legally recognized in some places and to show support for legalization.

Only two states - New York and Massachusetts, which already permits same-sex unions but prohibits out-of-state residents from marrying there - have made it clear they will recognize the California marriages of same-sex couples, said Kate Kendell, the executive director of the San Francisco-based National Center for Lesbian Rights. A handful of other states with significant domestic partner protections or that allow civil unions - including Vermont, New Jersey and Connecticut, where a marriage case is pending before its high court - may also honor the marriages, she said.

In Maryland, it's highly unlikely that marriages such as Brown and Rippetoe's will be recognized because in September the Court of Appeals upheld a state statute defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

The landscape is further complicated by a November ballot initiative that would change the California state Constitution to bar same-sex marriage, as 26 other states do. If the California initiative passes, legal experts say, it is improbable that those who are already married will have their rights removed - there is no precedent for taking away someone's marriage and initiatives are generally not retroactive.

But some say this issue remains foggy.

"The couples that are making this leap to run out there and get married are setting themselves up for psychological and emotional pain, which wouldn't have been necessary if judges had been smart enough to say that marriage has been between one man and one woman for eternity," said Doug Steigler, the executive director of the Family Protection Lobby, which opposes same-sex marriage.

"It's so confusing," he said. "We need to have a federal marriage amendment to clarify that marriage is one-man, one-woman."

In certain cases, even same-sex marriage proponents are telling gay couples to proceed with caution. People who are in the military, who do not have citizenship or who receive state benefits should seek legal advice before marrying their partners, Kendell said. Furthermore, filing for divorce in California requires a six-month residency, which would be a messy business for out-of-state couples.

Advocates are also explicitly discouraging gay couples who marry in California from filing lawsuits in their home states demanding their marriage rights.

"It's abundantly clear that the most effective way to move this issue forward is through public education and public conversation," Kendell said. "In a state like Maryland, I think the far better course of action than litigation is actual experience and working legislatively."

Though a Maryland bill that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples died in the most recent General Assembly session, advocates are hoping to continue their efforts next year. Their opponents are likely to continue their push for a state constitutional amendment to outlaw same-sex marriage.

R. Claire Snyder has been waiting for the opportunity to get a marriage license, and, despite the limitations that Maryland residents face, she and her partner, Mikki Hall, plan to make the trek to San Francisco in July for their nuptials.

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