Maryland court recognizes spousal privilege for same-sex married couple

[JURIST] A Maryland court ruled Thursday that the spousal privilege preventing spouses from being compelled to testify against one another applies to a lesbian couple married in Washington DC, recognizing the rights of same-sex married [JURIST news archive] couples though Maryland does not allow the practice. Judge Donald Beachley of the Maryland Washington County Circuit Court [official website] ruled that the spouse of a same-sex married couple was privileged [Herald-Mail report] from testifying against her spouse in a criminal domestic violence case. Maryland does not allow same-sex marriages, but the couple was married in Washington DC, where such marriages are legal, in August 2010. Deborah Snowden was charged with assault and reckless endangerment for allegedly threatening Sha'rron Snowden with a knife. When called to the stand, Sha'rron refused to testify against Deborah invoking the spousal privilege. Beachley then suspended the proceedings to hear arguments on whether the privilege could be invoked. Beachley ruled under the "principle of comity" between states, following Maryland's law which usually recognizes valid marriages from other states even if those marriages would not be valid if performed in Maryland. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Lambda Legal [advocacy websites] filed a joint brief [text, PDF] arguing that Sha'rron should not be compelled to testify by virtue of the spousal privilege. Susan Sommer, Director of Constitutional Litigation at Lambda Legal, lauded [press release] the decision: "Long-standing Maryland law recognizes a valid marriage even if it had not been entered in Maryland. The court's ruling treats this couple like any other married Maryland couple and should guide the way for other Maryland courts."

Earlier this month, the US Bankruptcy Court for the Central District of California [official website] ruled [JURIST report] that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) [text; JURIST news archive], a federal law barring same-sex marriage, is unconstitutional. The same-sex couple had tried to file for Chapter 13 joint bankruptcy for married couples. The court applied a "heightened scrutiny" standard but found it did not even meet rational basis review. Same-sex marriage continues to be a controversial issue among states. Also this month, a federal judge in California refused to vacate [JURIST report] an earlier ruling finding that Proposition 8 [JURIST news archive], California's ban on same-sex marriage, was unconstitutional. In April, the Delaware House of Representatives voted in favor of same-sex civil unions while the Indiana [JURIST reports] Senate approved an amendment to its state constitution banning same-sex marriage.

 

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