Spousal privilege is a legal term referring to a rule that prohibits the court from requiring one spouse to testify against the other. The idea behind this rule of law is that spouses should be able to confide in one another without the courts interfering with the bonds of marriage, even in cases where one spouse relays information that is potentially incriminating or allegedly commits assault against the other spouse.
Historically, this privilege extended only to a man and a woman who were recognized as being legally married by the state handling the criminal case. Today, numerous states throughout the U.S. have begun to recognize same-sex marriages. There are, however, also a large number of states that do not recognize same-sex marriage.
This makes for a tricky gray area in the legal world. What happens when a same-sex couple who was legally married in one state seeks to invoke the spousal privilege in a state that does not recognize same-sex unions?
That question is currently at the center of a Maryland criminal case. The couple involved in the case was married in the District of Columbia where same-sex marriages are legally recognized. One of the women of the couple is charged with first- and second degree assault against her partner. The assault case is being heard in a Maryland court, where same-sex marriage is not legally recognized.
The judge’s decision in this case will have a dramatic impact regardless of the outcome. If he finds that the spousal privilege applies in this criminal case, the prosecution may be left without a case. Beyond this case, however, the ruling would set a precedent around the country regarding spousal privilege and same-sex marriage when it comes to legal testimony.
The Daily Record: “Md. Court considering same-sex spousal privilege,” Associated Press, 25 Apr. 2011
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