Same-sex marriage has been legal in the District of Columbia since December 2009 and in Maryland since January 2013. Couples who wish to apply for a marriage license are granted all of the rights, protections, and responsibilities of federally-recognized civil marriage. Same-sex couples now undergo the same processes for marriage license applications, property ownership, federal and state benefits, and income taxes associated with married couples. Couples who have previously been registered as domestic partners can apply for a marriage license under the new law. It is important that these couples pay close attention to the laws of their registered state before applying for a marriage license in Maryland or D.C.
As of 2013, same-sex marriage is legally defined in Maryland and the District of Columbia as ‘between two individuals who are not otherwise prohibited from marrying.” Same-sex marriage is identified as occurring between two men or two women.
Domestic partnerships and civil unions both offer certain state-level rights to unmarried couples. Domestic partnerships extend these protections to unmarried couples who are living together such as hospital visits, medical decisions, and the ability to jointly own property. Civil unions specifically apply to same-sex couples and provide more (but not all) of the protections associated with marriage. Both domestic partnerships are state-level arrangements that end the moment a couple crosses the state border. The federal benefits (that is, benefits recognized at a national level) associated with marriage are not accessible to couples in civil unions.
Marital property includes anything the couple acquires while married (including retail property, vehicles, stocks and bonds, bank accounts, valuables, retirement plans and IRAs). Gifts or inheritances made to an individual by a third party are considered non-marital property along with any possessions acquired prior to the marriage.
Same-sex military couples are now eligible for military family benefits including health care, on-post housing, and survivor benefits. They are expected to become eligible for veteran’s benefits as well.
Individuals from other countries are now eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship as the legal spouse of a U.S. citizen.
Spouses of federal employees are now eligible for government benefits including medical, vision, and dental coverage as well as pension plans.
There is no residency requirement to get married in the state of Maryland. Couples applying for a marriage license must present a photo ID (note: whether both individuals in the couple need to be present for the application depends on the local county). Couples can apply for a marriage license at the Office of the Circuit Court Clerk or with a Non-Resident Affidavit (available online from the Clerk of each county).
Individuals who have been married in the past must provide proof that the marriage ended legitimately with a divorce judgment or death certificate. The marriage license is valid for up to six months.
Same-sex couples can legally file a joint income tax return in the state of Maryland. Both residents and nonresidents should use the same filing status as that of their federal income tax returns. The IRS allows married same-sex couples to file joint federal tax returns.
Maryland government employees in domestic partnerships are no longer eligible for spousal health insurance benefits. Same-sex couples working for the state of Maryland who wish to continue receiving health benefits for their partner must apply for a marriage license.
There is no residency requirement to marry in Maryland, so government employees who live in a state where same-sex marriage is not legal may apply for a marriage license in Maryland if they still wish to receive spousal health benefits from the state government.
Second-parent adoption grants parental rights to the spouse of the child’s biological parent. Maryland law permits all adults to petition to adopt a child, and now recognizes same-sex couples who are legally married as co-parents to any adopted children. Second-parent adoption is highly recommended to same-sex couples in order to assure legal rights extend beyond state borders.
If a woman giving birth in the hospital wishes to claim her partner as a spouse and the other mother of the child, Maryland requires both women be legally married. The non-biological mother does not have to apply for second-parent adoption in this case.
Adoption and custody rights are constantly changing, and couples who wish to adopt are encouraged to seek legal counsel to provide help for their specific situation. Same-sex adoption has been on the rise since the legalization of same-sex marriage in Maryland and is expected to continue to rise in the coming years. Certain situations (including surrogacy) are presently under policy debate and may change in the future.
There is no residency requirement to marry in the District of Columbia. Both applicants must appear in person to Moultrie Courthouse with photo identification. All applicants must bring the $10 license fee. There is an approximately three-day waiting period between applying for and receiving a marriage license. The license has no specific time frame and an unsigned marriage license can be used anywhere within the D.C. area.
Same-sex spouses in the District of Columbia can choose to file state tax returns under either “married filing jointly” or “married filing separately” status. As in Maryland, federal income tax returns must be filed under the same status as state income tax forms.
If the couple is already registered in D.C. as a domestic partnership, the $35 application fee will be waived. The domestic partnership status will immediately dissolve upon legal marriage. Couples who were in a domestic partnership or civil union outside of the District of Columbia will have to check the laws of the state where domestic partnership was granted, as some states require the couple to dissolve the partnership or civil union before they can legally marry.
Couples who have been legally married out-of-state or out-of-country are automatically recognized as married in D.C. Couples who are domestic partners in certified “substantially similar” jurisdictions will also have their domestic partnership automatically recognized by the city of D.C.
Second-parent adoption grants parental rights to the spouse of the child’s biological parent. As of March 2013, adoptions can take place in the District of Columbia provided the child was born in the District. At present, lesbian couples who give birth in D.C. are able to obtain second-parent adoption. Surrogate births are not currently legal and D.C. and as such the law does not presently apply to children born via surrogacy.
If a woman giving birth in the hospital wishes to claim her partner as a spouse and the other mother of the child, the District does not require both women to be married as long as the child is born in D.C. The non-biological mother does not have to apply for second-parent adoption in this case.
Adoption and custody rights are constantly changing, and couples who wish to adopt are encouraged to seek legal counsel to provide help for their specific situation. Same-sex adoption has been on the rise since the legalization of same-sex marriage in D.C. and is expected to continue to rise in the coming years. Certain situations (including surrogacy) are presently under policy debate and may change in the future.