Gay marriage backers, foes face off again in Maryland

Posted on 12 Mar 2009 at 5:51pm
By Kathleen Miller Associated Press

Neither opponents or backers expect much movement this year on bills to legalize gay marriage or amend constitution to ban it

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Gay marriage advocates and opponents duked it out again in Annapolis on Wednesday, March 11, with supporters saying marriage is a civil right and opponents arguing it would destroy the moral fabric of Maryland.

Montgomery County Sen. Richard Madaleno Jr., the only openly gay Maryland senator, is sponsoring the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act. The measure gives same sex couples the right to marry, but stipulates religious leaders could not be forced to perform marriage ceremonies that are inconsistent with their faiths.

"Just 45 minutes ago I was in the Senate chamber, one of 47 equals with all of the rights and privileges I share with my colleagues as an equal member of the state Senate," Madaleno said at a noon press conference.

He added: "In another 45 minutes, I will be before the Senate Judicial Proceedings committee as a second class citizen in the state of Maryland. One of thousands of gay and lesbian people who is unable to marry."

Dr. Chris Beyrer, the founder and director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Public Health and Human Rights, said denying same sex couples the right to marry harms community health.

"And we know for certain that lesbian and gay individuals suffer harm to their physical and psychological health, and to their relationships and quality of life, as result of the shame, isolation and stigma accrued from their social and legal disenfranchisement," Beyrer said in written testimony for the bill.

In 2007, Maryland’s highest court ruled that lawmakers may change state law to allow same-sex couples to marry. A similar gay marriage bill was introduced last year, but lawmakers have yet to vote on such a proposal.

Nonetheless, Madaleno said he believes progress has been made since the first gay marriage bill was introduced in Maryland about a decade ago by another lawmaker.

"When that bill was put in, she received so many death threats she received state police protection for a week," Madaleno. "Here we are a decade later, now we have more than 50 co-sponsors on our bill and we’re able to have a civil discussion."

Doug Stiegler, director of the Family Protection Lobby, said allowing gay marriage would "open the door" for polygamists to demand the state respect marriage between more than two people.

"People in polygamy communities are already saying ‘why just two people, why not three or four,"’ Stiegler said. "Let’s not go there."

Anne Arundel County Sen. Janet Greenip also testified before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, urging lawmakers to amend Maryland’s constitution to require the state to only recognize marriage between one man and one woman. If passed by lawmakers, voters would then need to approve Greenip’s bill at the polls because it requires a change to the state constitution.

"I think it’s high time we give the people of Maryland the ability to decide this issue," Greenip said.

Advocates and opponents of gay marriage said they don’t expect much traction on either bill this year.

On the Web: Read Senate Bill 565: http://mlis.state.md.us/2009rs/bills/sb/sb0565f.pdf
Read Senate Bill 647: http://mlis.state.md.us/2009rs/billfile/SB0647.htm

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