The Maryland Court of Appeals, the highest court in the state, has allowed a same-sex couple to file for divorce, despite the fact that same-sex marriage will not be legal in the state until 2013. The case sparked a national debate on whether states without same-sex marriage can recognize same-sex marriages that took place in other states.

The divorce, which this blog has previously written about, involved a lesbian couple who were married in another state in 2008 before moving to the east coast. When the couple attempted to file for divorce in Maryland in 2010, a judge dismissed the filing, arguing that Maryland’s constitution prohibited him from approving the divorce because same-sex marriage was not allowed in the state.

The couple appealed, and the panel of justices ordered the lower court to grant the divorce. The justices issued a 21-page opinion, writing that Maryland only refuses to recognize “valid foreign” marriages when they are deemed to be “repugnant” to state law.

Gay rights advocates have praised the decision. A representative for the National Center for Lesbian Rights explained, “Divorce is never easy, but when a couple has made the decision to end their marriage, there is no reason why the state should prevent them from ending their legal relationship and moving on with their lives.”

Attorneys say the case is unlikely to have much influence outside of Maryland, as states are not required to define marriage based on the policies of any other states. Still, the case is significant for gay or lesbian couples in Maryland that wish to pursue divorce before the state’s law officially recognizing same-sex marriage goes into effect.

Source: CNN, “Lesbian couple can file for divorce in Maryland, court rules,” May 18, 2012