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Varied gay marriage laws from state to state complicate divorces

Same-sex couples who marry here in Washington state might be in for a surprise if they try to divorce in a state that doesn't recognize their marriage. States that do not recognize same-sex marriage are trying to figure out if they can grant divorce filings of same-sex married couples.

Readers will recall our discussion last week of the implications of federal law regarding same-sex marriage. Laws which vary from state to state may also affect same-sex Washington state couples who chose to move to another state.

Therefore, Washington state couples may be interested in the outcome of a case in Maryland. The Maryland Supreme Court recently heard a case involving a lesbian couple who had married in California. After moving to Maryland, they sought a divorce in their new state of residency. A judge denied their divorce because Maryland does not yet recognize same-sex marriage.

Maryland's position on same-sex marriage, much like Washington state's, is in transition. In 2013, Maryland will recognize same-sex marriages performed in the state. Opponents are preparing to challenge this by putting a referendum on the ballot.

Maryland law does not specifically ban the recognition of same-sex marriages occurring in other states. Lawyers for the couple seeking a divorce offered Wyoming and New Mexico as examples of states that grant divorces to same-sex couples married elsewhere. Wyoming and New Mexico do not allow same-sex marriage.

The lawyers for the Maryland couple also argue that Maryland has a long history of recognizing marriages that cannot be performed under Maryland state law. An uncle and a niece cannot get married in Maryland, but Maryland will recognize such a couple as married if they legally wed in another state. In fact, judges in Maryland have reportedly been inconsistent about granting same-sex divorces couples. About a dozen couples have had their divorces granted.

The women in the Maryland case argue that they should not have to travel outside of their home state to get a divorce.

Washington state will begin allowing same-sex marriages this June and also faces opposition that might result in a referendum.

Source: The Washington Post, "Maryland high court hears case of lesbian couple married in Calif. and denied Md. divorce," April 6, 2012

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