Maryland Wades in

Maryland Wades in

Summer has set dates, I’m told, but for me, summer is always defined by when my favorite outdoor lap pool is open. It’s in Montgomery County, Md., which is my home.

It’s there I taught myself flip turns, applying what I’d learned from books and from watching masterful swimmers to my weekend liquid laboratory. The pool is beside a wooded bike trail, so I also used it to train for my only triathlon.

Joyce, my Maryland transplant and spouse, is more of a good sport than a swimmer. She usually brings a novel and enjoys a catnap in the shortie lawn chairs. She knows when I can’t do one more lap, it’s time for us to jump into the large play pool, where we compete for who can do the best-looking underwater hand stand. Spending a few minutes in the outdoor shower, where you can gaze at clouds, is the end of a perfect two hours on a summer weekend.

One might think my sweet little county-operated pool complex would be given a summer break from anti-gay politics. But no, right there on the application for a pool pass, a “family pass” is for “a husband and wife, or up to two parents and/or guardians and up to four single legal dependent children.”

Local politicians, in what can’t help but feel like a painful snub to someone gay, used the phrase “husband and wife” rather than a friendlier “married couple,” which would embrace gay marrieds. A gay couple with kids can get a pass, but only because of their relationship to their children, not to each other. In hundreds of small and large ways, Maryland, where gays can’t yet marry, largely treats gay couples — even those of us legally married elsewhere — as legal strangers.

But a heartwarming step on Feb. 24 by Attorney General Douglas Gansler pushes Maryland closer to treating committed gay couples as equal to our heterosexual counterparts. Gansler, in a 55-page opinion as the state’s top lawyer and in a follow-up news conference, said state agencies ought to begin recognizing marriages of gay couples performed elsewhere. That’s happening already in New York, which doesn’t marry gay couples but honors legal marriages of gay couples performed elsewhere.

“State agencies in Maryland will recognize out-of-state gay marriages as of right now,” Gansler said at a news conference.

In explaining why Maryland should recognize legal out-of-state marriages, Gansler noted that Maryland doesn’t have common law marriages but recognizes them from other states. Similarly, Maryland recognizes as valid the Rhode Island marriage of an uncle to his niece, a union that couldn’t be entered into in Maryland.

As Gansler explained, his opinion doesn’t create law but rather predicts how the state’s top court would rule.

His opinion is “the law of the land, unless and until the legislature or a court overturns that decision,” he said.

Gov. Martin O’Malley quickly backed up the attorney general, stating, “I expect all state agencies to work with the attorney general’s office to ensure compliance with the law.”

Question marks remain that won’t be answered without a legal challenge and top court ruling. But the positive ripple effects likely will be seen in everything from spousal health care benefits for state workers to wording that once excluded married gays on government forms.

Maryland’s step couldn’t come at a luckier moment: Border sister Washington, D.C., is set to begin marrying gay couples this week. That means gay Marylanders would easily be able to marry in Washington and return home with the expectation that Maryland governmental agencies will respect their marriages.

Maryland is wading in on gay marriage. This is a key state to watch.

Deb Price of The Detroit News writes the first nationally syndicated column on gay issues.

Copyright 2010