- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 24, 2012

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Martin O'Malley’s renewed fight to legalize same-sex marriage will depend heavily on assuring religious groups that his proposed legislation won’t infringe on their beliefs or opposition to the weddings.

Mr. O'Malley, a Democrat, met Tuesday with lawmakers, activists and religious leaders who support his bill, which was introduced Monday in the Senate.

The governor appears to be aiming his message most prominently at black Democrats, who oppose gay marriage in greater numbers than other Democrats and often cite religious beliefs as the reason.

He said he plans to show opponents that allowing gays to marry would afford gay couples a fundamental right but would not require religious institutions that disagree to perform or recognize the ceremonies.

“One can have their religious beliefs but also agree that in a religiously pluralistic state like ours, a religiously pluralistic country like ours, we all have to find ways to get along and our laws have to protect rights equally,” the governor said.

The legislation now goes before the state’s Democrat-controlled General Assembly.

The Senate is expected to pass the legislation for a second straight year, but its fate likely will be decided in a contentious House battle.

House leaders attempted to bring the bill to a full chamber vote in the 2011 assembly but couldn’t after realizing they were about three votes short of the required 71.

Every House Republican opposed the bill, as did many moderate and socially conservative Democrats.

Many black Democrats from Prince George’s County and Baltimore opposed the bill on religious grounds or because of religion-based objections from constituents.

Mr. O’Malley spoke to reporters Tuesday morning in front of the governor’s mansion, where he was backed by a couple dozen supporters, including several prominently placed black activists, clergy members and union leaders.

Speakers included a young male black couple; Starlene Joyner Burns, a nondenominational minister from Bowie; and Ezekiel Jackson, a political organizer for 1199 SEIU, a union that largely represents black health care workers.

“Contrary to what some white folks would say, we’re not all one monolith on this issue,” Mr. Jackson said.

A gay-marriage bill will still face strong objections from Republicans as well as many white and black religious leaders who worry it will delegitimize traditional marriage and potentially open the doors for lawsuits against religious organizations that refuse to condone gay marriage.

Mr. O'Malley said repeatedly that his bill would protect religious institutions’ rights not to perform or recognize any marriage with which they disagree.

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