- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Maryland lawmakers today are scheduled to review two bills that would amend the state constitution to ban same-sex “marriages” and invalidate licenses obtained by Marylanders outside the state.

Homosexual couples that were “married” this month in San Francisco planned to testify before the House Judiciary Committee against the legislation, which would strengthen state law that already defines marriage as a union only between a man and woman.

The hearing comes a day after President Bush called for a federal constitutional amendment outlawing same-sex “marriage” in the wake of San Francisco’s decision to issue licenses to homosexual couples and court rulings in Massachusetts that pave the way for same-sex “marriage.”

Rockville resident James Packard, who “wed” his longtime partner Erwin Gomez on Feb. 17 in San Francisco, called the recent wave of same-sex unions “a movement and a cause.”

He plans on testifying today in Annapolis and said the couple may wage a court battle to win the same legal rights that married heterosexuals are afforded in Maryland.

Homosexual-rights groups say the dispute over same-sex “marriage” goes beyond the simple ability to marry. Just as important are the property rights, inheritance rights, shared benefits, medical-privacy rights and other issues that come with a marriage license.

Maryland law currently states that “only a marriage between a man and woman” is valid. The state Attorney General’s Office issued a memo yesterday to all court clerks reminding them that licenses cannot be issued to same-sex couples. The only exception is when the couple obtains a court order, the memo states.

The possibility of judicial rulings that could weaken the law, combined with the recent wave of marriages in California, prompted Maryland lawmakers to propose the two bills that the Judiciary Committee will hear today.

Delegate Charles R. Boutin, Harford County Republican, introduced a bill that calls for an amendment of the state constitution that would state only marriages between men and women are valid. The amendment would have to be approved by voters.

That would allow Marylanders to decide how to define marriage and make it harder for that definition to change, Mr. Boutin said. The current law can be overturned by the legislature or the courts.

But homosexual-rights advocates say allowing the electorate to determine the rights of a minority group is unfair. Other civil rights cases have been settled by the courts, not by public opinion, said Dan Furmansky, executive director of Equality Maryland.

“I don’t think civil rights should be up for a popular vote,” Mr. Furmansky said.

The second bill would make marriage licenses that are issued by other states or cities, including San Francisco, invalid in Maryland.

The bill’s sponsor, Delegate Emmett C. Burns Jr., Baltimore County Democrat, said giving same-sex couples “marriage” rights would degrade the institution of matrimony and set the state on an “ascending spiral of decadence.” He said the current law is mute on whether someone can import their marriage license to Maryland.

“I want to close that door. That door is wide open,” he said.

Mr. Furmansky said it may not be the right time to challenge Maryland law in the courts because there is so much uncertainty over whether the San Francisco marriages will be upheld by the California courts or if Massachusetts will go ahead with same-sex unions this spring.

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