BALTIMORE (AP) -- Maryland court clerks can begin accepting applications for same-sex marriage licenses immediately and issue them as soon as Dec. 6 as long as they specify that the licenses don't take effect until Jan. 1, Attorney General Doug Gansler wrote in a legal opinion Thursday.
Gansler also noted in the 19-page opinion that marriage ceremonies may be performed starting Jan. 1, when the law is scheduled to take effect.
While Maryland's same-sex marriage law was approved by voters earlier this month, there were questions about how the law would go into effect, because Jan. 1 is a holiday when courts would be closed.
Technically, Gansler says clerks may begin issuing marriage licenses after the law is formally proclaimed to have been approved by the voters, an action Gov. Martin O'Malley is expected to take on Dec. 6. Clerks of court then may begin issuing marriage licenses, if they bear a Jan. 1 effective date.
Gansler also noted that a clerk of court can choose not to issue licenses until Jan. 2. That would make the licenses effective at 6 a.m. on Jan. 4.
"For instance, a circuit court in one jurisdiction may anticipate a high volume of applications from couples wanting to marry on Jan. 1, 2013, and may wish to use the time before then to spread out what would otherwise be an unmanageable administrative burden," Gansler wrote. "Other jurisdictions may determine that such advance processing is not necessary in order to issue licenses promptly after the effective date. We believe the legislative scheme allows for this type of administrative flexibility."
The attorney general also wrote that if a clerk of court issues a license earlier than Dec. 30, but with a Jan. 1 effective date, the provisions of a 48-hour waiting period are satisfied. He noted that same-sex couples who have already been married in a state where it was legal to do so before Jan. 1, 2013 cannot get a license and marry in Maryland, as long as the out-of-state marriage remains intact.
However, couples who have a civil union from another state could still get married in Maryland.
"In the absence of statutory language prohibiting the issuance of a marriage license to a couple who has entered into a civil union in another state, we see no obstacle to the issuance of a license in such situations," Gansler wrote.
David Rocah, an attorney with the ACLU of Maryland, applauded the clarifications.
"There are many people who have literally waited a lifetime to get married, and they should not have to wait any longer than necessary after December 31 to do so," Rocah said in a statement. "Additionally, the attorney general opinion is helpful in clarifying the effects of out-of-state marriages and civil unions on who can and cannot marry here, and in instructing clerks to avoid use of any stigmatizing language in implementing Maryland's marriage equality law."
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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