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Maryland gays flock to D.C. to take vows

Many are encouraged by the state attorney general's opinion that same-sex marriages performed out of state should be recognized.

March 28, 2010|By Scott Calvert
  • Jessica Leshnoff, left, and Holly Beatty of Maryland celebrate in Washington, where they married after their state's attorney general said it should honor same-sex unions sanctioned elsewhere.
Jessica Leshnoff, left, and Holly Beatty of Maryland celebrate in Washington,… (Christopher T. Assaf / Baltimore…)

Reporting from Washington — Dupont Circle on a recent sunny afternoon: Workers on lunch break gathered for impromptu picnics; others relaxed on park benches, drawn by the spring-like warmth.

And under one budding tree, barely noticed by a passing stream of pedestrians, Jessica Leshnoff and Holly Beatty of Baltimore prepared to wed.

"We gather today to marry Jessica and Holly. This is your time; this is your day. Today you once again declare your love and commitment to each other: this time sanctioned not only by your love, your vows and your solemn commitment, but by the law."

With those words, officiant Todd Waymon of the Washington Ethical Society began a simple ceremony that granted the women the legal recognition they've yearned for during nine years together. Looking on were five friends and Leshnoff's 88-year-old great-uncle who came from Florida.

Gay couples from Maryland have been flocking to Washington this month since it began sanctioning same-sex marriages, joining five states. The staff at D.C. Superior Court has been too busy to sort applications by state, but a spokeswoman said it appeared that at least 25% of the 151 license-seekers the first day were from Maryland.

Proximity is not the only factor. A key impetus was last month's opinion by Maryland Atty. Gen. Douglas F. Gansler that Maryland should recognize same-sex nuptials performed out of state.

In the emotional crucible of marriage politics, some lawmakers in Annapolis, the state capital, have been trying to blunt the force of the opinion, which directly affects only state agencies but has been hailed by gay rights advocates as a major step toward equality.

A sense that the issue is far from settled -- reinforced by the rejection of gay marriage by voters in Maine and California -- was another reason Leshnoff and Beatty wasted no time making their union legal.

"You never know when it's going to be taken away," Leshnoff said.

Actually, this was not the first time they made their commitments. In 2008, they held a Jewish wedding before 150 family members and friends.

Their relationship began in the spring of 2001 when they met, through friends, during a night out in Washington. A week later Leshnoff e-mailed Beatty, and soon they went on their first date.

Beatty, 35, is now a full-time student at the University of Baltimore, pursuing a degree in government, public policy and community studies. Leshnoff, 31, is a freelance journalist and copywriter.

The inability to marry legally has been a constant source of pain and irritation, the couple say.

Leshnoff said she had recently suggested moving somewhere such as Massachusetts, where gay marriage is legal and they might feel more respected.

Then Gansler issued his opinion. "Totally changed everything," Leshnoff said.

Back at sunny Dupont Circle, Leshnoff and Beatty promised to console each other in sorrow, to strengthen each other in weakness, to share and create happiness. They slid wedding bands onto each other's ring finger and recited: "With all that I have, and all that I am, I marry you and join my life to yours."

"Having declared yourselves to each other, and by the powers vested in me by . . . the Government of the District of Columbia, I now pronounce you married," Waymon said.

Leshnoff and Beatty kissed and embraced. Their friends clapped. Great-uncle Ben Leibowitz beamed from his wheelchair. "I waited such a long time for this," he said. "I got myself a new niece."

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