12/03/2012 03:31 pm ET Updated Dec 03, 2012

Same-Sex Couples In Maryland Can Begin Marrying On Jan. 1, Says Attorney General Doug Gansler

WASHINGTON -- It may be a very happy New Year indeed for some same-sex couples in Maryland.

Maryland's attorney general issued a formal legal opinion late last week stating that same-sex couples may be eligible to marry on Jan. 1.

The Gazette has more details:

Voters upheld the state's new law granting marriage rights to same-sex couples earlier this month, but it doesn’t officially take effect until the first of the year.

State lawyers initially said that because Jan. 1 is a holiday -- and there's a two-day wait before licenses take effect -- that same-sex couples could not marry until Jan. 4.

But a formal opinion from Attorney General Douglas Gansler, issued Thursday, says that as long as the effective date is printed on the license, courts can issue them as soon as Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) formally certifies that the law has been approved by voters, which he is expected to do Dec. 6.

If a jurisdiction’s licenses do not specify the effective date, they cannot be issued until Jan. 1, according to Gansler.

In the opinion, Gansler also clarified that same-sex couples who have already been legally married in another state, and who have remained married, may not get a Maryland marriage license and marry again, but that the law does not prohibit couples who have entered into a civil union or domestic partnership, but aren't married, from now marrying in Maryland.

In 2010, Gansler issued an opinion finding that Maryland's legal system could recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

In last week's opinion, the attorney general also addressed the question of what form same-sex wedding vows ought to take:

The statute and case law provide little guidance on what form the vows should take, which leaves the administrative judges of the circuit courts with a relatively free hand in crafting the ceremony. When they do so, however, we would recommend that the administrative judges be mindful of not characterizing one form of marriage as "traditional" or solemnizing marriages with language that could be seen as stigmatizing the union into which the parties enter.

Gansler says in the opinion that "using a single, gender-neutral set of vows for all couples would eliminate any possibility of discrimination," but that doing so might disappoint some same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples. The recommended solution: judges should offer "all parties a choice of different terminologies or, better yet, the opportunity to choose exactly how they will be referred to in their vows."

See this opportunity in action on Jan. 5. Black Walnut Point Inn, on Maryland's Tilghman Island, is holding a free mass wedding for same-sex couples.

On or around Dec. 6, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) is expected to "formally proclaim" the results of November's election, including voters' affirming the state's marriage equality law.



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