- The Washington Times - Friday, March 13, 2009

Maryland lawmakers took up the issue of gay marriage for the second consecutive day Thursday, with supporters asserting marriage is a civil right and opponents arguing that allowing such unions constitutes a grave threat to traditional family values.

“This issue is not about impacting or attacking religion. We’re talking about civil rights,” said Delegate Benjamin S. Barnes, Anne Arundel Democrat and member of the House Judiciary Committee, which heard testimony from about 50 supporters and opponents.

Mr. Barnes is sponsoring a bill that would allow civil marriages for gay couples that was amended to permit churches to refuse to perform gay wedding ceremonies. Mr. Barnes and other supporters say the bill maintains the separation between church and state.

“The question is do you believe that we should give folks the right to live according to their own choosing?” asked Mr. Barnes.

The committee also heard testimony on a bill supported by House Republicans that would amend the state’s constitution to ban gay marriage entirely.

Delegate Don H. Dwyer Jr., Anne Arundel Republican and a sponsor of the constitutional amendment, said that advocates of gay marriage should be content arguing for civil unions, instead of redefining marriage itself.

“The historical debate has been about equal rights and equal benefits, but last year that debate changed when the homosexual activists argued against civil unions,” said Mr. Dwyer.

On Wednesday, the state Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee heard testimony on a bill identical to Mr. Barnes’ one. Doug Stiegler, director of the Family Protection Lobby, said at the hearing that allowing gay people to marry each other would “open the door” for advocates of more extreme lifestyles like polygamy.

“People in polygamy communities are already saying ‘Why just two people, why not three or four?’ ” he said.

Current state law defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman, and the state Supreme Court upheld the law in a 2007 split ruling.

About 30 states currently have some sort of law relating to gay marriage.

Last year, Mr. Barnes’ bill to legalize gay marriage was introduced for the first time, but did not make it out of committee. Mr. Dwyer and other opponents of gay marriage have introduced several measures to create a constitutional ban since 2006, but none has made it out of committee.

“This body has not had the integrity to bring this issue to the floor for a vote,” said Mr. Dwyer.

Supporters of the gay marriage bill included Attorney General Doug Gansler, a Democrat, who said that not allowing civil marriage for gay couples is equivalent to violating their civil rights.

“If you said to blacks and whites you can’t do this, this, and this, people would be outraged,” said Mr. Gansler.

Mr. Dwyer said that a person’s sexual orientation should not be compared to race or ethnicity.

“While I have met many a former homosexual, I have never met a former African-American,” said Mr. Dwyer.

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