- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 18, 2004

A bipartisan group of Maryland lawmakers has organized more than 500 church congregations for a huge rally in Annapolis to lobby for a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex “marriage.”

Church leaders expect that more than 100,000 demonstrators will march on the Capitol on Jan. 27 in what will be called the “Defend Maryland Marriage Rally.” Supporters say the movement was buoyed by the passage of similar constitutional amendments in 11 states on Nov. 2.

“I’ve come to the realization that the churches must take a stand on this issue,” said Delegate Don Dwyer Jr., an Anne Arundel County Republican and one of the chief organizers of the march. “The church has remained silent for far too long.”

Mr. Dwyer and a small band of legislators, including Delegate Emmet C. Burns Jr., Baltimore County Democrat, are enlisting the support of churches from across the state. Mr. Dwyer said more than 500 churches have pledged to participate in the rally and more are joining every day.

About 100 Maryland pastors from churches small and large, urban and suburban, representing black, white and Hispanic congregations, came together Tuesday at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Baltimore County to discuss the rally.

The Rev. Clifford Johnson, Mount Pleasant’s senior pastor, described the effort as “an all-out war” to defend traditional marriage.

He said the emerging coalition’s aim is to sway legislators who last year twice struck down legislation outlawing homosexual “marriage,” including a proposed constitutional amendment. The other bill would have stopped Maryland from recognizing same-sex “marriages” from other states.

This year’s effort is focused on a constitutional amendment.

An amendment to the state constitution must be passed by three-fifths of the members of both houses of the General Assembly. The amendment then would go to the voters as a ballot question and become incorporated in the constitution if it is passed by a majority of voters.

Maryland’s constitution does not have a provision authorizing citizen-initiated ballot measures, and the governor cannot veto an amendment to the constitution.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, has said he opposes homosexual “marriage” and considers traditional marriage the “cornerstone of society.”

Supporters say the constitutional amendment is needed to head off a lawsuit challenging Maryland’s 1973 marriage law, which states that “only a marriage between a man and a woman is valid.”

Maryland was the first state to strictly define marriage, but it is also one of a handful of states to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Nine homosexual couples sued the state this year after court clerks refused to issue them marriage licenses. The lawsuit, which is being pursued with the aid of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the homosexual rights group Equality Maryland, says the state’s definition of marriage is unconstitutional.

A hearing is scheduled for March 14 in Baltimore. The ministers said they also plan to draw attention to the hearing with a March 10 demonstration.

David Rocah, a staff lawyer for the ACLU of Maryland, said religious opposition to homosexual “marriage” was “not Maryland” and was unlikely to have a major influence on the legislature.

“I think it is a misguided effort, and I think that just like it failed last year, it will fail again this year,” he said. “There is simply no political will on the part of a majority of Marylanders or on the part of a majority of Maryland legislators to legislate that kind of discrimination.”

Mr. Dwyer said he hoped the same political current that prevailed in the Nov. 2 election would manifest itself in Maryland, despite the state’s reputation as a liberal bastion.

“It is wonderful that the country is speaking out clearly that it supports moral values and the protection of marriage between a man and a woman,” he said. “This issue is going to clarify just how liberal Maryland is.”

State constitutional amendments to uphold marriage as the union of a man and a woman easily passed Nov. 2 in all 11 states where it was on the ballot — Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon and Utah.

A second round of “marriage amendments” are expected to be debated in at least nine states other than Maryland, including Alabama, Idaho, Massachusetts, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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