As a Maryland divorce and family law attorney and former member of the House of Delegates, the actions of the General Assembly are always of interest. However, the 2011 session has more than its share of drama. It appears almost certain that Senate Bill 116, the Civil Marriage Protection Act expanding marriage to same sex couples will be passed and signed by Governor O'Malley. It is equally certain that an effort will be made to defeat this bill by taking it to referendum. Therefore attention will soon turn to the Maryland Constitutional provisions for placing such a bill in front of the voters. Article XVI of the Maryland Constitution requires that opponents of a bill obtain signatures of registered voters equal in number to 3% of the number of voters in the last gubernatorial election. This means approximately 55,000 valid signatures will be required. The deadline for filing at least 1/3 of the required signatures is June 1, 2011; the remainder will be due by the 30th of the same date. If the required signatures are obtained, the law will not go into effect until 30 days after it has been approved by a majority of the voters in the November 2012 election. Maryland would be the first state to obtain voter approval for same sex marriage. If defeated at the polls, the ruling by a deeply divided Maryland Court of Appeals in Conaway v. Deane would remain in effect for now and there would be no right to same sex marriage. Assuming the bill goes to referendum, Maryland family law attorneys will have some time to ponder best practices as it relates to same sex marriage. There are myriad issues that will arise because such marriages may not be recognized by the federal government and many other states. In a state with a large number of federal and military personnel, Maryland family law practitioners will need to keep a sharp eye on federal employment benefits laws and regulations that are likely to remain in a state of flux.
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