The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland is representing a Washington County woman who last month invoked her privilege not to testify against her same-sex spouse in an assault case.
The Washington County Circuit Court trial of Deborah Snowden, 50, of Williamsport on a second-degree assault charge came to a halt in April when Sha'rron Snowden invoked her spousal privilege not to testify against her spouse.
The couple were married in August 2010 in Washington, D.C., where same-sex marriages are legal.
Judge Donald E. Beachley suspended the trial to allow Deborah Snowden's attorney, Assistant Public Defender Carl Somerlock, and Assistant State's Attorney Leon Debes to prepare arguments on whether the right accorded to heterosexual couples in Maryland extends to the alleged victim, Sha'rron Snowden.
Maryland State Police charged Deborah Snowden with second-degree assault and reckless endangerment for allegedly threatening Sha'rron Snowden with a knife at their home on Dec. 10, 2010, according to the application for statement of charges.
The ACLU and Lambda Legal, an organization that represents the interests of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, are representing Sha'rron Snowden in her claim of spousal privilege, ACLU Staff Attorney David Rocah said Thursday.
"I think it's improper to be called into question in this proceeding," Rocah said. "There is no doubt they are married, which is the only relevant fact."
The ACLU and Lambda Legal agreed to represent Sha'rron Snowden on May 23, according to a joint news release from the organizations.
Somerlock said he was aware of other cases in Maryland in which a spouse in a same-sex marriage has invoked the privilege without objection by prosecutors, Rocah said.
"By joining in this legal representation, the ACLU seeks to protect the right of any married same-sex couple to be treated (equally) to any other married couple in Maryland," Rocah said in the release.
"The marital privilege is not a fundamental right," but a creation of the legislature, Debes said at the time.
The Maryland General Assembly has not enacted legislation to recognize same-sex marriages in the state or from other jurisdictions, he said.
"You have asked whether those marriages may be recognized under State law," Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler wrote a 2010 letter in response to a state senator's inquiry on same-sex marriages. "The answer is clearly 'yes,'" Gansler wrote.
"There are no formal prerequisites to recognition of an out-of-state marriage .... The general rule is that a marriage valid where contracted or solemnized is valid everywhere," Gansler wrote.
However, Debes argued in April that the state can recognize same-sex marriages by three methods — legislation, an appeals court decision, or when state agencies recognize out-of-state marriages on matters under their jurisdiction.