By Kara Rose
COLLEGE PARK, Md. (February 24, 2012)—For Maryland same-sex couples like Erin and Kat McGonigle, getting legally hitched required a short trip across the state line.
The couple married—unofficially—in front of friends in Maryland in September 2011, but didn't officially tie the knot until they stepped into a Washington, D.C., courthouse the following month.
Though Maryland recognizes their out-of-state marriage, the two said they wish they could have avoided the trip.
"It saddens me to know that we had a wedding in September that - if we were a straight couple - would have been the real deal if Maryland had legalized gay marriage," Erin McGonigle said.
Gov. Martin O'Malley is set to sign legislation approving same-sex marriage in Maryland on March 1—but it won't take effect unless Maryland voters approve it this fall. If that happens, couples like the McGonigles will no longer have to trek across the state line to marry.
Advocates expect that change will lead to many more same-sex marriages in the state, which could boost the Maryland economy.
After New York legalized same-sex marriage in 2011, New York City's marriage bureau took in $200,000 more in marriage license fees from August through December compared with the same period the year before, according to multiple news reports.
The change could also attract to Maryland more same-sex couples and those who support marriage equality, advocates said.
The district had more same-sex couples than any other state, according to a study of the 2010 U.S. Census by the Williams Institute, with 18.08 same-sex couples per 1,000 households. Vermont and Massachusetts, which both allow same-sex marriage, were second and third. Maryland ranked 19th with 5.81 same-sex couples per 1,000 households.
"People often choose to move to a place because of what it stands for. There would be a lot of people, if they had a chance of where to settle down, that might come to Maryland," said attorney Susan Silber, who represents many same-sex couples in Maryland.
The McGonigles decided to get officially married in the district to gain access to some benefits Maryland currently gives to same-sex couples married in other states.
Though Maryland recognizes same-sex marriages performed in other states, the change would give same-sex couples new rights under Maryland law previously reserved for heterosexual couples.
There are about 240 specific rights under Maryland law currently denied to same-sex couples, Silber said. That would change if voters approve the same-sex legislation in a referendum on the November ballot.
Now that the same-sex marriage legislation has passed the General Assembly, opponents are organizing to vote down the measure in November.
"The battle to uphold marriage in Maryland is not over. The institution of marriage has not yet been redefined; this bill will not go into effect until the people of Maryland have had a say," the Maryland Marriage Alliance said in a press release.
Meanwhile, Maryland same-sex couples will continue to travel to the district to get officially married.
Shawn Letourneau was in the Army when he met his fiance in 2001. Though same-sex marriage may be legal in Maryland by the end of the year, he hopes to take a trip to the district to get married in July.
He said he was worried that voters in Maryland would shoot it down.
"It would be nice to get married here in Maryland, but as we know every time it has [gone] to the ballot we have lost. It is a majority voting in a minorities rights," Letourneau said.