There are many milestones on the road to justice. Here in Maryland, one such signpost on the journey to realizing marriage equality was the groundbreaking 2006 ruling by Baltimore Circuit Judge M. Brooke Murdock, who has now retired from the bench. Judge Murdock said that it was a violation of the state constitution to deny same-sex couples the right to marry. Now, similar rulings are close to commonplace - it seems as if new ones are issued every few months in "Red," "Purple," and "Blue" states across the country. But in 2006, her decision was visionary, and courageous.
Judge Murdock ruled: "When tradition is the guise under which prejudice or animosity hides, it is not a legitimate state interest. ... "The Court is not unaware of the dramatic impact of its ruling, but it must not shy away from deciding significant legal issues when fairly presented to it for judicial determination."
The case was brought by the ACLU of Maryland and the national ACLU, in partnership with Equality Maryland. We represented nine same-sex couples and a surviving gay partner, who were brave enough to stand up and charge that it was a violation of the state constitution to deny same-sex couples the ability to marry and the many family protections that come with marriage. Maria Barquero, Charles Blackburn, Gita Deane, Glen Dehn, Takia Foskey, Lisa Polyak, Stacey Kargman, Lisa Kebreau, Jodi Kelber, Ryan Killough, Dave Kolesar, John Lestitian, Mikki Mozelle, Donna Myers, Steve Palmer, Jo Rabb, Nigel Simon, Alvin Williams, and Patrick Wojahn stood up to represent the thousands of gay and lesbian couples in Maryland who did not have equal rights.
"This is such an exciting moment," Lisa Polyak said that day, with her then-partner and now-wife, Gita Deane. She continued, "Tonight, we will rest a little easier knowing that those protections are within reach." Unfortunately, the struggle would take many years longer, as the Court of Appeals overturned Judge Murdock's decision the following year. Ultimately, however, the people of Maryland had the final word, when the General Assembly voted in favor of full marriage equality in 2012, and voters cast their ballots in favor of the Civil Marriage Protection Act in a referendum in the general election that year.
Today, we can unequivocally say that Judge Murdock was on the right side of history, and the law. Her ruling helped pave the way for what has become a sea change in public opinion in support of marriage equality and a tidal wave of judicial rulings in favor of allowing loving same-sex couples access to the protections and dignity of a marriage license.
Let us remember the important moments on the road to what may become - perhaps sooner than we could have imagined when Deane and Polyak v. Conaway was filed in 2004 - nationwide recognition of marriage equality.
Thank you, Judge Brooke Murdock.