- The Washington Times - Friday, February 10, 2012

Gov. Martin O'Malley urged House lawmakers on Friday to pass his same-sex marriage bill, arguing that allowing gays to marry does not necessarily conflict with one’s religious opposition to homosexuality.

Mr. O'Malley, a Democrat, was the first of dozens of people to testify in an 11-hour, joint hearing of two House committees charged with vetting his gay-marriage bill.

The governor said such marriages will stabilize same-sex households with children. He also emphasized that his bill will allow state-recognized marriages but would not require religious institutions and faith-based groups to perform or recognize gay weddings.

“This bill offers more religious protections and religious freedoms than any bill of its kind yet passed in the United States,” he said.

The governor spoke for about four minutes before the House Judiciary Committee and Health and Government Operations Committee. He then took some pointed questions from Republican committee members who worried about the bill undermining traditional marriage.

Delegate Michael A. McDermott, Worcester Republican, argued that the bill should be put to referendum rather than decided by lawmakers. He contended that the legislation is more important than other proposals that have been put to a statewide vote, such as the state’s 2008 decision to legalize slot machines.

“That seems to be in conflict that we would ask them about gambling but we wouldn’t ask them about something called marriage,” Mr. McDermott said.

Polls have shown Marylanders to be divided on gay marriage.

Mr. O'Malley testified alongside two Baptist ministers who spoke in favor of gay marriage, giving another indication that he plans to court black Democrats in the General Assembly and throughout the state.

Last year’s gay-marriage bill failed in the House due in part to opposition from many black Democrats who oppose the bill on their or their constituents’ religious convictions.

The Rev. Donte Hickman, pastor at Southern Baptist Church in Baltimore, said his religion prohibits him from performing same-sex weddings, but he thinks gays have the right to be married in the eyes of the state.

“It doesn’t threaten my religious convictions, nor does it obligate me or my church to officiate or promulgate same-sex marriages,” he said. “It actually eradicates my fears.”

Opponents struck mostly religious tones in decrying gay marriage, arguing that the governor’s bill aims to protect religious groups but would force businesses and people who reject it on religious grounds to put gay couples on equal footing with heterosexual ones.

Delegate Don H. Dwyer Jr., Anne Arundel Republican, testified that gay marriage would pave the way for homosexuality to be taught in public schools.

Mr. Dwyer is proposing a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and woman.

Delegate Emmett C. Burns Jr., Baltimore County Democrat, argued that the bill would have many unintended consequences and eventually could seep its way into religious institutions.

Mr. Burns, a Baptist minister, said his views on the issue were shaped in part by a childhood incident when a man propositioned him for sex. He refused.

“Even as a boy, I knew intestinally that there was something wrong with that,” he said. “Nobody had to tell me, and nobody has to tell me that there is something wrong with men marrying men and women marrying women.”

The governor’s bill would make Maryland the eighth state to pass legislation legalizing gay marriage.

The Senate version of his bill is now in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.



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