Baltimore County judge’s ruling striking down 1973 law defining
marriage as union between men and women only begins effort
ANNAPOLIS, Md. An emotionally charged debate over whether same-sex marriages should be outlawed in the Maryland Constitution went before state lawmakers Tuesday, with conservatives pushing for a ballot question on gay marriage even as an appeals court weighs the matter.
Before a packed room and dozens more waiting outside, the House Judiciary Committee began hearing testimony on a GOP proposal to amend the state constitution to ban gay marriages and civil unions.
Gay marriage “is not within the concept of the laws of nature,” said Delegate Don Dwyer, a Republican, who sponsored the amendment. Dwyer said lawmakers would be derelict if they left the question to courts.
Dwyer also said gay people can choose whether to be gay and therefore can’t compare themselves to racial minorities.
The legislature has considered, but not passed, gay-rights amendments before. The question is more pressing this year in the wake of a recent decision from a Baltimore County judge who sided with gay and lesbian couples who challenged a 1973 state law defining marriages as between men and women only.
It was unclear when the committee, made up of mostly Democrats, would vote on the proposed amendment. At least one member challenged Dwyer’s proposal Tuesday. Delegate Luiz Simmons, a Democrat, argued that Dwyer’s amendment could make illegal domestic partner benefits already given by some employers.
“It strips away existing legal protections from otherwise innocent Maryland citizens who happen to be gay,” Simmons said.
Earlier Tuesday, Democratic Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said he had no position on the amendment, though he thought the ruling would be overturned on appeal because “the judge made an erroneous decision.”
Republican Governor Robert Ehrlich came out more strongly on the side of House Republicans by issuing a statement late Monday calling on lawmakers to vote on the amendment. Earlier the governor took a more measured approach and indicated the legal appeal should be allowed to continue.
“Marriage is of such vital importance to us all” that full House and Senate votes should be called on the question, Ehrlich said in his statement.
If the amendment is approved by lawmakers this term, voters would still have to approve the change during this fall’s elections before the constitution could be changed.
Gay rights advocates attended Tuesday’s hearing, though they were outnumbered by supporters of the amendment. Among the amendment’s opponents was Larry Sternbane of Rockville.
“It’s putting my rights as a gay man up to the whims of the majority,” Sternbane said. “We’re fighting for the simple right to marry.”
Another opponent, Philip Tajitsu Nash of College Park, said he’s straight but finds it discriminatory that same-sex couples can’t marry.
“We need to let everyone marry whoever they want,” he said.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition of February 3, 2006