ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Martin O'Malley took his same-sex-marriage bill before a Senate committee Tuesday and touted the legislation as a way to bring stability for gay couples and their children without infringing on others' religious beliefs.
Mr. O'Malley, a Democrat, testified for about five minutes in the four-hour hearing, which featured arguments for and against his bill, which would make Maryland the seventh state to legalize gay marriage.
The governor emphasized the bill's protections, which he said would absolve religious institutions and faith-based groups from having to perform or condone gay weddings and said it would give gay households many property, medical and custodial rights now offered only to heterosexual couples.
"We all want the same things for our children," Mr. O'Malley said before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. "It's not right, and it is not just that the children of gay couples should have lesser protection than the children of other couples in our state."
The committee is expected to vote on the legislation next week, said Chairman Brian E. Frosh, Montgomery Democrat.
Committee members passed last year's gay-marriage bill by a 7-4 vote and are expected to vote along similar lines this year, sending the legislation to the Senate floor. The bill passed the full Senate in the 2011 General Assembly session but failed in the House when many members objected over their religious beliefs or those of their constituents.
The governor was joined by several elected officials who also testified in favor of gay marriage, including openly gay Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., Montgomery Democrat; Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, a Democrat; and Sen. Allan H. Kittleman, Howard Republican and the state's only GOP legislator to openly support gay marriage.
Mr. Kittleman, whose father — former GOP state Sen. Robert H. Kittleman — was active in the 1960s civil rights movement, said gay-marriage supporters are leading a similar fight now and that opponents should put gay rights ahead of any fear of negative ramifications.
"You don't take away someone's civil rights because of something that might happen," he said. "You can deal with the mights later on, but make sure we get the civil rights done now."
Much of the opposition came from members of the religious community, who testified that legalizing gay marriage would violate religious laws and undermine traditional marriage by irrevocably changing a code that has stood throughout the country's history.
Some argued that gay marriage could open the door for polygamous or incestuous unions and that its supporters eventually will look to roll back religious protections and teach about homosexuality in schools.
The Rev. Bob Borger of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Annapolis said the governor's bill might protect his church but would force many of its parishioners to "violate their religious convictions as individuals or as businesses."
While religious groups would have the right to withhold services from gay couples, non-religion-affiliated groups and businesses such as wedding photographers and secular adoption agencies would have to provide services under existing anti-discrimination laws.
Mr. Borger said opponents will not back down, evoking comments last week by Maryland first lady Catherine "Katie" Curran O'Malley, who called some opponents of gay marriage "cowards."
"Those with sincere religious convictions are being encouraged to give up their beliefs," Mr. Borger said. "A coward runs from a fight ... this is a fight we will not run from."
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