Nine years after Obergefell, number of same-sex marriages has jumped in Maryland

Same-sex couples could already get married in Maryland before the U.S. Supreme Court extended the right nationwide nine years ago, but the numbers have risen sharply since the ruling was handed down in Obergefell v. Hodges.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that there were about 4,400 same-sex married couples in Maryland in 2012, the year before the state made it legal. That number grew to 10,388 by 2015, when the Supreme Court called marriage “a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person” that could not be denied to same-sex couples.

Since that June 26, 2015, ruling the number of same-sex married couples in Maryland has climbed to about 16,500, according to Census estimates, or 69% of all same-sex couples, up from 33% in 2012.

Despite members of the LGBTQ+ community still facing discrimination and other challenges, overall acceptance has grown over the years as some states such as Maryland work to pass laws that aim to uplift the community.

“I would say that’s the biggest difference … I see people really thriving in their authenticity in themselves. Getting back to … being all open and honest about who you are, and being able to say it out loud and proud,” said  Sen. Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City and Baltimore County) who was the first openly LGBTQ+ African American elected to state office in Maryland.

“Like, I can say ‘my wife,’” she said. “And I say that more often than I say I’m a lesbian … I could just say ‘my wife’ and that says it all.”

She believes that Maryland was “on the right side of history” by legalizing same-sex marriages before Obergefell.

But the change was a long time coming.

Same-sex marriage was banned in most states in 2003, when Massachusetts became the first state to allow it. Acceptance grew slowly. By 2013, when Maryland’s law took effect, 33 states still had same-sex marriage prohibitions, 29 of which were voter-approved bans set in the states’ constitutions.

Maryland law banned same-sex marriages until 2012, although the state did recognize the validity of such marriages from states where they were legal. But in 2012, the General Assembly narrowly voted to put the question to voters on the November ballot.

The change was approved that fall by 52.4% of voters, and same-sex marriages were officially recognized in the state starting in January 2013.

Meanwhile, overall attitude and acceptance of same-sex couples have increased over the years.

According to surveys from Gallup, a public opinion research group, about 69% percent of people in 2024 believe that “same-sex couples should … be recognized by the law as valid, with the same rights as traditional marriages.” That is actually slightly lower than the year before, when 71% agreed with the statement, but it’s much higher than in previous years.

In May 2015, a month before the Obergefell ruling, 60% believed that same-sex marriages should be legal. In 2013, 53% agreed with that statement. But prior to 2011, most people said that same-sex marriages should not be legal.

In recent years, the Moore administration and state lawmakers have attempted to bolster protections for the LGBTQ+ community, at a time when other states are going in the opposite direction.

This year, the General Assembly passed a bill that placed “gender-affirming care” under the state’s category of legally protected care.”  The intent is to keep medical information of persons who seek gender-affirming care in Maryland from being shared across state lines, and potentially with law enforcement in states that are more hostile to transgender people.

While some advocates and lawmakers say that Maryland was ahead of the game when it comes to protecting the rights and dignity of its LGBTQ+ community, there are still challenges that gay, lesbian, transgender residents may struggle with.

“So for some, marriage was the only thing they really needed,” Washington said. “But there’s still health care access, there’s housing, access to employment, discrimination.”

The state’s Commission on LGBTQIA+ Affairs affirms her concerns. According to a 2023 report, while significant progress had been made over the last decade, “formidable challenges remain.”

The commission said in its 2023 report that nationally and in Maryland “LGBTQIA+ individuals continue to face challenges related to access to affirming housing, healthcare, education and employment, along with increased risks of discrimination, harassment, and violence.” The commission also reported that 78.8% of transgender people experienced verbal insults or abuse at least once in their lives, and that 46.1% had experienced physical and or sexual assault in their lives.

Just Tuesday, the Maryland Department of Health released survey results of high school students evaluating risk behaviors among LGBTQ+ kids compared to their straight counterparts. Based on 2023 data, students who identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual or questioning said they faced bullying at a higher rate than the rest of the student population. They were more likely to experience verbal or physical abuse from their parents.

Just over 50% of gay, lesbian or bisexual high school students surveyed reported that “their mental health was most of the time or always not good,” compared to 20% of the straight students reported.

Washington reflected on the advances from the time she was first elected to the House of Delegates in 2010, to the legalization of same-sex marriages in Maryland in 2013 and the Obergefell decision in 2015, but said there’s still more to be done.

“It was a time when it was really important for the public to see that we are human. That we are Marylanders,” she said of her 2010 bid for office. “Us being able to say, ‘I am the same as you,’ was really important. And I think now we should be able to take the space … those differences are what makes us special.”

“We’ll just evolve and see what the next challenges are,” she added.

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