Last month Sha’rron Snowden of Williamsport, Maryland — a town that sits between Sharpsburg, where I live, and Clear Spring, where I grew up — invoked her legal right not to testify against her spouse, who was being tried in Washington County Circuit Court on a 2nd degree assault charge. The prosecution immediately objected, and the judge suspended the trial to allow Snowden’s lawyer and the state to prepare arguments as to why Snowden should be allowed to assert spousal privilege, or not.
Earlier this week the American Civil Liberties Union represented Sha’rron Snowden in her spousal privilege hearing.
Why is the invocation of an established and respected legal right even an issue? Because Sha’rron’s spouse is a woman. She and Deborah Snowden were married last August in Washington, D.C., where same-sex marriages are recognized.
From the Herald-Mail:
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.
To those who question why we who argue for total equality for our gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered fellow Americans find same-sex marriage such an important issue, I submit this story. To those who insist that civil unions are sufficient, or that legally recognizing same-sex marriages is unnecessary, since people are already free to live with and love whomever they choose, I present the case of Sha’rron and Deborah Snowden.
Had Sha’rron Snowden refused to testify against her husband, her right to do so would never have been challenged. But because her spouse is a woman, and the crime of which that woman is accused (and of which Sha’rron Snowden was allegedly the victim) took place in Maryland, a state which — to its great shame and my great disappointment — has not yet recognized same-sex marriages, she is forced to persuade a judge as to why she ought to be allowed to exercise a right that I, my wife, my parents, and every other heterosexual couple in the state take for granted.
I don’t blame the prosecution here. I’m not familiar with Leon Debes, the assistant state’s attorney assigned to this case, and for all I know he’s just being a good lawyer, exploiting every possible advantage to win a conviction. His prosecutorial zeal isn’t the problem. This sort of thing should never have been allowed to happen, and it is only the first, I fear, of many reminders that when our state legislature failed to pass a bill recognizing same-sex marriages earlier this year, it failed not only the thousands of gay men and women whose interests it is charged to represent, but all of us in a way it seldom has.