Maryland’s highest court Tuesday upheld a 34-year-old state law banning same-sex marriage, rejecting an attempt by 19 gay men and lesbians to win the right to marry.
In reversing a lower court’s decision, the divided Court of Appeals ruled that limiting marriage to a man and a woman does not discriminate against gay couples or deny them constitutional rights. Although the judges acknowledged that gays and lesbians have been targets of discrimination, they said the prohibition on same-sex marriage promotes the state’s interest in heterosexual marriage as a means of having and protecting children.
The 4 to 3 decision cannot be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court because the lawsuit relied solely on state law. But the judges appeared to invite gay rights advocates to pursue their goals through the political system: “Our opinion should by no means be read to imply that the General Assembly may not grant and recognize for homosexual persons civil unions or the right to marry a person of the same sex,” Judge Glenn T. Harrell Jr. wrote for the majority.
The opinion was a setback for gay advocates, who thought the Maryland court – considered liberal on social and criminal issues – was their best shot at victory in the nationwide movement to win marital rights. They vowed to take to the General Assembly their fight for the rights to health care, tax benefits and medical decision-making, which are accorded to married heterosexual couples.
“This is not the day we were hoping for,” Lisa Polyak, an engineer and one of the lead plaintiffs in the case, said on the steps of a Baltimore church after the ruling.