Friday, May 21, 2004

Maryland and Virginia will not recognize the “marriages” of area same-sex couples who are joining other homosexuals in flocking to Massachusetts to exchange vows, but D.C. officials are still deciding the issue.

Both states have laws defining marriage as being only the bonding of a man with a woman.

The Maryland legislature this year rejected bills that would have banned civil unions. Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. has said the state will not recognize same-sex “marriages” conducted in other states. Mr. Curran, a Democrat, pledged to defend the state against lawsuits by homosexuals seeking recognition of their unions.

Virginia bans same-sex unions, a policy that will soon face a legal challenge.

Civil rights groups and homosexual couples vow to fight to have same-sex “marriages” recognized in this region.

“We saw it as a window of opportunity that isn’t going to be there forever,” said James Reeves, a 26-year-old Baltimore man who plans to “marry” his partner, Marc Epstein, in Massachusetts this weekend.

“This issue is not going to go away,” Mr. Reeves said. “We need a better discourse to identify solutions that are acceptable to both sides. We don’t want to rock the boat or make people uncomfortable, but to hopefully bring a more reasoned voice in the debate.”

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams is reviewing a confidential opinion issued by the Office of the Corporation Counsel on whether the District should recognize same-sex “marriages” performed in other jurisdictions. Mr. Williams has had the Corporation Counsel’s secret opinion since March, according to office spokeswoman Tarifah Coaxum.

Virginia’s Republican-controlled legislature enacted a law that amends the state’s Affirmation of Marriage Act to prohibit the state from recognizing same-sex civil unions performed in other states. It becomes effective July 1. It bans civil unions and any “partnership contracts” or other arrangements between homosexuals.

Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, tried to amend the law by deleting the phrase “partnership contracts,” saying the phrase is unconstitutional. The legislature rejected his amendments, and the law was enacted without the governor’s signature.

Legal experts said the law is vague and could ban contracts between same-sex business partners or family members.

But Delegate Robert G. Marshall, the law’s author, said the law only targets same-sex unions.

“Because marriage matters,” said the Prince William County Republican. “Homosexuals are proposing bogus substitutes for marriage. These counterfeits harm our society in the same way that counterfeit money hurts our society.”

Dyana Mason, executive director of Equality Virginia, said the homosexual rights group is preparing to challenge the law in court.

“This law is one of the worst pieces of legislation affecting a group’s civil rights in generations,” she said. “It’s clearly unconstitutional and at a minimum is insulting to gay and lesbian Virginians.”

Virginia Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore, a Republican, said he will defend the law’s constitutionality.

Maryland’s law will be tested as well.

Dan Furmansky, executive director of the homosexual rights group Equality Maryland, said local same-sex couples “marrying” in Massachusetts may return home to sue their state for the right to have their “marriages” recognized. He called Maryland’s law “discriminatory.”

However, Doug Stiegler, executive director of the Family Protection Lobby, said Maryland’s law does not go far enough. “We don’t think there is enough protection for marriage in Maryland,” he said.

The legislature rejected attempts to amend the state constitution this year, and Mr. Stiegler said his group will try again next year.

In the District, same-sex couples are waiting on the mayor’s decision.

Tony Bullock, spokesman for Mr. Williams, said the mayor is not obligated to release the corporation counsel’s opinion. “It’s a complicated issue,” he said.

Mr. Bullock said D.C. officials would prefer Congress not interfere on the matter. “We just don’t want to be treated differently than any other state in the country,” he said.

The federal government does not recognize same-sex “marriage.”

Ken Choe, staff attorney for the Lesbian and Gay Rights Project for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the District has shown support for marriage equality, but he said he didn’t think Mr. Williams would side for recognition.

“Because of the city’s relationship with the federal government, there are potential limits on what it can do,” Mr. Choe said.

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