Thursday, January 27, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — Lawmakers and clergy held a rally outside the state Capitol yesterday to support an amendment to the state constitution that would define marriage as being only between a man and a woman.

About 500 people stood in frigid temperatures, holding signs, cheering speeches by pastors and politicians, and praying in unison.

“We are in a moral war,” said the Rev. Harry Jackson, pastor of Hope Christian Church in College Park. “The bombs are not aimed at our military outposts. They are aimed at our families.”

The crowd was predominantly Christian and an even mix of blacks and whites. It responded collectively to Mr. Jackson’s sermon, which urged every church to oppose same-sex “marriage” and reject the comparison between the homosexual movement and “the black struggle for civil rights.”

“Civil rights are not the same as sacred rights,” he said.

Delegate Don Dwyer Jr., Anne Arundel Republican, urged voters to hold their elected officials accountable for how they vote on the issue.

Mr. Dwyer, who has led the legislative effort against homosexual “marriage,” did not exempt churches from criticism. He “condemned” their past response to homosexuals.

“The church has failed miserably to embrace the homosexual and to love him as a sinner,” he said. Homosexuals “are no different than us.”

Mr. Dwyer said churches “must open their doors” to homosexuals “so they can see God’s saving grace.”

Tonya Gross, 38, came with three busloads of fellow members from Rock City Church in Baltimore.

“It’s not hard to take a stand on this issue,” she said, holding a sign that stated: “Maryland opposes same-sex marriage.”

“We had to take a stand,” she said. “It’s moral decay. Two men cannot reproduce. It’s not what God intended it to be.”

John Leck, 44, of Frederick, Md., said marriage has been between a man and a woman “for centuries.”

“Gay people have a choice to be gay,” he said. “They are not born that way. I have no problem with gays living together. Marriage is different.”

The proposed constitutional amendment is expected to be introduced in the House’s Judiciary Committee.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, said yesterday that an amendment was not needed.

“I think the statute in Maryland is very clear on that,” he said. “I don’t think there is any need for a change in the statute in the state of Maryland.”

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 resident-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 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 also is 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 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 yesterday that they also plan a March 10 demonstration to draw attention to the hearing.

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

Same-sex “marriage” was first allowed in the United States in November 2003, when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued its landmark “Goodridge” ruling. The decision, which passed 4-3, stated that the Massachusetts Constitution guaranteed an equal right to marry for couples, regardless of sex.

Massachusetts officially began “marrying” same-sex couples on May 17, though only couples who live in that state or intend to live there can “marry.”

As with Vermont civil unions and other state domestic partnerships, Massachusetts’ marriage licenses to same-sex couples are not recognized by other states, though a few lawsuits seeking such recognition are under way.

• Robert Redding Jr. and Cheryl Wetz-stein contributed to this report.

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