- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Starting this week, gay and lesbian couples can wed in Maryland.
Employees at the St. Mary’s County Circuit Court are readying for the historic change, a supervisor said, and at least one church here is opening its doors to same-sex marriages.
“We are absolutely going to be completely ready come Jan. 2,” Tracy Cantrell, the supervisor for land records and licenses at the St. Mary’s Circuit Court, said last week. Cantrell said she could be performing the ceremonies herself later this week.
But some clerks at the St. Mary’s courthouse have said they will not perform wedding ceremonies for gays or lesbians.
Terri Bolling, a state judiciary spokesperson, confirmed Friday that some deputy court clerks in St. Mary’s County did not want to perform marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples because of their religious beliefs.
The Examiner reported that St. Mary’s Circuit Court Clerk Joanie Williams said those employees would no longer perform any marriages at the courthouse. Williams could not be reached for comment for this article.
Bolling said Friday that there is no guidance in place allowing employees to opt out of assigned duties. That issue would need to be considered by the state’s legal and human resources departments, she said.
Regardless, for now, Bolling said, “They have adequate staff to perform the marriages” in the St. Mary’s court clerks office.
Cantrell said in Maryland that there is a 48-hour waiting period between when a marriage license is issued and when a couple can actually wed.
St. Mary’s, unlike most other counties in Maryland, did not issue any licenses before the mandated Jan. 2 deadline, so the first same-sex wedding in the county would occur at the earliest on Friday, after the waiting period.
Cantrell said she plans to be at work that day, and could be the clerk officiating.
“I really enjoy doing ceremonies,” she said.
Marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples in Maryland were approved by voters in last November’s election.
Although nearly 56 percent of St. Mary’s residents voted against the state measure, statewide the Civil Marriage Protection Act was approved by 52 percent of voters.
Theresia Warder of Chaptico said she is excited that the measure passed in November allowing same-sex weddings. Warder is a member of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays in Southern Maryland. Although the year-old group is not yet officially affiliated with the national PFLAG organization, it does meet monthly with a regular attendance of between eight and 15 people, she said.
Warder said the group talked a lot about the ballot measure and some members actively campaigned for its passage.
When asked about the possibility that some employees in the clerk’s office might no longer perform weddings because of their objections to same-sex marriage, Warder said it did not bother her much, as long as the government courthouse has someone who will perform the weddings.
“We just want to make sure the law is being enforced, however that needs to happen,” Warder said.
Cantrell said the St. Mary’s courthouse will be ready for any weddings booked by gay or lesbian couples.
She said licenses to same-sex couples were not issued in St. Mary’s before the new year because the computer program that prints the marriage licenses had to be changed.
“There was a concern of affecting the integrity of the license,” she said.
The licenses will no longer have spaces labeled as “bride” or “groom,” but now will say “party one” and “party two,” Cantrell said. The actual civil ceremony performed by court clerks will change slightly to reflect more gender-neutral wording, she added.
Other than that, Cantrell said, “It’s business as usual.”
The state law explicitly says religious institutions are not required to perform weddings for gay couples, but some are openly welcoming same-sex marriages.
The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Southern Maryland, which holds services in Hollywood, placed ads offering to marry same-sex couples after November’s election. Chaplain James Gibbons Walker said he has not had any same-sex couples book a wedding yet, but has heard some interest.
“The denomination has been on record a long time” in support of gay marriage, Walker said. In the early 1970s, the Unitarians passed a resolution condemning discrimination against gay marriage, he said.
Equality Maryland, a gay-rights advocacy group, has posted on its website a list of clergy in the state who will perform same-sex weddings, including some Unitarian, Protestant, Jewish and United Church of Christ congregations.
“Most of the clerks are already providing [marriage] licenses,” Carrie Evans, executive director of Equality Maryland, said last week. She said that although the law did not require courthouses to issue licenses in advance, all but St. Mary’s County and perhaps two counties on the Eastern Shore did.
Evans said that while she expected there would be some bumps in the road, overall the state is working to implement the new law.
There were some couples “waiting for that strike of midnight,” she said, adding that others she talked to are in less of a hurry. “Some prefer a summer wedding,” she said.