- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 25, 2004

ANNAPOLIS — The Democratic lawmaker sponsoring a bill that would prohibit the state from recognizing same-sex “marriages” in other states said yesterday he thinks it will pass this year because “the wolf is at the door.”

Maryland family law recognizes marriages only between a man and a woman, but Delegate Emmett C. Burns Jr. said his bill — which has died in two previous sessions — would make it more difficult for Maryland courts to follow Massachusetts’ lead and bypass legal barriers to homosexual “marriage.”

“Maryland law doesn’t go far enough,” said Mr. Burns, Baltimore Democrat and House deputy majority whip. “I want to close that door.”

Mr. Burns’ bill and one by Delegate Charles R. Boutin calling for a state constitutional amendment to ban homosexual “marriage” face tight votes in the House Judiciary Committee, and the full House will likely be narrowly divided on the issue.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.,Republican, has not staked out a position on either bill, but as a U.S. congressman he voted for the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act that mirrors the Burns bill.

“The governor believes that the institution of marriage should be reserved for a man and a woman,” said Ehrlich spokesman Henry P. Fawell. “But until this legislation goes through the legislative process and reaches his desk, it would be premature to take a position.”

If the Boutin bill passes, the constitutional amendment would be decided as a referendum on the November 2006 ballot.

“Place in the hands of the voters of this state the decision of what will be the definition of marriage,” said Mr. Boutin, Anne Arundel County Republican. “I don’t want some court somewhere to decide this issue.”

Maryland lawmakers reviewed both bills yesterday, a day after President Bush urged Congress to pass an amendment to the U.S. Constitution defining marriage as a union only between a man and a woman. Thousands of same-sex “marriages” in San Francisco this month and a Massachusetts court ruling that such “marriages” must be permitted under the state’s constitution prompted the action.

Elsewhere, conservative legal firms yesterday filed a lawsuit in California to stop San Francisco’s county clerk from continuing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. And a lawyer in Florida filed suit against a Broward County’s clerk for not issuing licenses to homosexual couples.

At Maryland’s House Judiciary Committee hearing yesterday, homosexual rights advocates and proponents of traditional marriage clashed over whether the state should define marriage as existing only between a man and a woman.

Delegate Luiz Simmons, Montgomery County Democrat and a committee member, said the bills are an attempt to legitimize “gay bashing.”

Delegate Anthony J. O’Donnell, a committee member and co-sponsor of Mr. Burns’ bill, said such epithets cheapen the legislative process.

“I’m disappointed,” said Mr. O’Donnell, Southern Maryland Republican and House minority whip.

Expressing dismay over Mr. Simmons’ “gay-bashing” comment, Delegate Carmen Amedori, Carroll County Republican, said the issue is about protecting the family unit.

The debate spilled into the hallway of the Lowe House Office Building, where a lesbian rights activist confronted a woman expressing religious opposition to the homosexual agenda.

“I don’t have equal rights now, and I want them,” shouted 44-year-old Fawn Pettigrew, who wants to “marry” her partner.

“You are asking my family to recognize what you do in your private bedroom,” Debbie Belcher, 43, told Miss Pettigrew. “I want my children to grow up and know that a marriage is between a man and a woman — that’s what I believe.”

Before the hearing, Delegate Richard S. Madaleno Jr., a Montgomery County Democrat who is openly homosexual, appeared at a homosexual rights rally where he said the bills are “a mean-spirited way to pander to people who are afraid of change.”

“The culture has already changed,” he said at the rally in the Montgomery County delegation’s meeting room. “We as families have children. We have property. We need the same sort of benefits and protections that heterosexual couples already enjoy.”

Delegate Susan Lee, Montgomery Democrat and a committee member, also attended the rally, saying the bills “do nothing to protect the institution of marriage.”

But Delegate Joseph C. Boteler III, one of the 12 co-sponsors of the Burns bill, said the legislation presents a “defining moment” for the General Assembly.

“The reality is that this is a moral issue,” said Mr. Boteler, Baltimore County Republican. “This is going to have ramifications throughout our society. … Consider the chaos that could result if we do not deal with this issue.”

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