Friday, February 15, 2008

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler became Maryland’s first statewide elected official to endorse same-sex “marriage” when he told a Senate committee yesterday that such unions are “a basic matter of fairness.”

Mr. Gansler, a Democrat, testified in favor of a Senate bill that would remove gender language from state marriage law. Last year, Mr. Gansler successfully directed the defense of the state’s marriage law, allowing only male-female unions, during a constitutional challenge in which Maryland’s highest court ultimately left the question of homosexual unions to lawmakers.

“In five, 10, 15 years, there is no question in my mind we will have gay marriage in the state of Maryland and across the United States,” said Mr. Gansler, who acknowledged that his arguments would be unpopular with some but that he was obliged as the state’s top lawyer to seek justice.

“It would be wrong for me to have this job knowing there’s something so wrong in our society and just ignore it,” he said.

Mr. Gansler’s testimony cast new light on what has become a perennial topic of debate for state lawmakers, with little indication this year would see any attempt by lawmakers to address homosexual “marriage.”

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, has said he would prefer a civil union bill to a same-sex “marriage” bill, and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Southern Maryland Democrat, has said there is little chance of homosexual “marriage” coming to a full vote this term.

Mr. Gansler conceded the bill faces long odds.

“I don’t know that we’ll have the political courage to pass gay marriage. We’ll probably end up getting civil unions, and I understand that, but I think we can at least start the dialogue,” Mr. Gansler said.

Though Mr. Gansler’s office defended the current marriage law, he told reporters it wasn’t incongruous for him to back changing it.

In the lawsuit, plaintiffs argued unsuccessfully that gender language in marriage law violated constitutional equal-right protections.

Mr. Gansler said the current law does not violate the state constitution, but that the law should be changed.

“Why wouldn’t gay people be allowed to marry? What is the possible justification for that?” Mr. Gansler asked.

Senators considered several measures related to same-sex unions. One bill would allow homosexual “marriages”; another would set up civil unions for same-sex couples, but not marriage. A third would change the state constitution to prohibit same-sex unions.

Lawmakers in Maryland are used to wading into controversial political waters, and the debates were less spirited than in years past. Senators did not vote yesterday on the bills; top lawmakers said several weeks may pass before the committee votes on whether to forward any of the proposals related to same-sex couples.

Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., a Democrat from Montgomery County who is the only openly homosexual senator and is sponsor of the marriage bill, urged senators not to wait any longer to change the law. His bill would include a provision making clear that religious leaders would not be compelled to perform or recognize homosexual unions.

“Grant my family, and the families of thousands of your constituents, the rights and responsibilities of marriage,” Mr. Madaleno said.

Opponents cited religious objections and said the gender language in marriage law is crucial to the institution.

“When the name marriage can be stamped on any romantic entanglement, it loses all meaning,” said Dean Nelson of Gaithersburg, director of the Network of Politically Active Christians.

The Maryland House is scheduled to take up similar bills in coming weeks.

Mr. Gansler said he is not expecting the legislature to change marriage law this year, but is urging senators to change their minds so that “all of us will be equal before the law.”

“All of us have gay friends, right? If you say to somebody, I’m not going to stand up for you, what good are you?” Mr. Gansler said.

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