- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 8, 2005

A group of more than 70 Maryland church leaders yesterday voiced support for same-sex “marriage,” which would be banned under a state constitutional amendment that is expected to be introduced in the House.

The Rev. Donald E. Stroud, director of Baltimore’s chapter of That All May Freely Serve, a Presbyterian homosexual advocacy group, said the group has a “responsibility as Christian leaders to make it clear” that not all clergy oppose same-sex “marriage.”

“I think that people who choose to be married should have the right,” said Mr. Stroud, who is openly homosexual. “I believe marriage is a civil right.”

The church leaders, representing eight Christian denominations, signed a document supporting same-sex “marriage” during a press conference at Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church in Baltimore.

The document states that the clergymen “are alarmed by the inflammatory, misleading and discriminatory rhetoric of some Christian ministers who would have their voice be perceived as speaking for all Christians in advocating for the denial of equal civil rights for gay and lesbian couples in Maryland.”

The Rev. Andrew Foster Connors, pastor of Brown Memorial, said his church’s 250 members form a congregation that welcomes homosexuals.

“We really want all of our voices to be heard so it doesn’t appear that the issue is simply gay and lesbian people against the church,” he said. “We think it is important to understand that Christian communities are divided on this, just like the general public is.”

The Rev. R. Whitfield Bass, pastor of St. John United Methodist Presbyterian Church in Columbia, agreed, saying, “It’s a time for another perspective.

“The media has been dominated by conservative evangelicals for too long on this issue, as if they were speaking for the entire Christian faith community,” Mr. Bass said.

The group of ministers said they support nine homosexual couples who are suing the state after county court clerks refused to issue them marriage licenses.

The homosexual rights group Equality Maryland and the American Civil Liberties Union say in the lawsuit that Maryland’s definition of marriage is unconstitutional. A 1973 Maryland law states that “only a marriage between a man and a woman is valid.”

A hearing on the case is scheduled for March 14 in Baltimore.

Maryland was the first state to define marriage, but it is also one of several states that outlaws discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., a Democrat, has said he welcomes a court opinion.

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

Late last month, hundreds of residents, clergy and lawmakers rallied at the state Capitol to support an amendment to the state constitution that would define marriage as being only between a man and a woman. An amendment is expected to be introduced in the House’s Judiciary Committee during the current General Assembly session.

An amendment 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 approved by the majority of voters. The governor cannot veto an amendment to the constitution.

Maryland’s constitution does not have a provision authorizing resident-initiated ballot measures.

Last year, voters in 13 states chose to amend their constitutions to define traditional marriage, bringing to 17 the number of states that have such amendments.

Yesterday, the Virginia House of Delegates approved a state constitutional amendment to define traditional marriage, and the Senate passed a similar bill on Monday. The amendment will go to Virginia voters next year.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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