Endless gay rights debate exacts an emotional toll

February 15, 2005|By MICHAEL OLESKER

MIDWAY THROUGH his defense of legal rights for gays and lesbians, Dan Furmansky got a little lost in the thickets of his own language yesterday. The morning was pretty hectic. Furmansky had been running around in the rain and sleet, and hoping to hold together an afternoon rally outside the State House in Annapolis. But the gloomy weather wasn't cooperating, and neither was Furmansky's sense of locution.

He was talking about decency and sounding like some dry constitutional lawyer. He was talking about human relationships and lapsing into the language of the earnest bureaucrat. But the argument is about matters of the heart. It's about some citizens being treated one way, and some who are treated another, when all are allegedly children of God.

His language, it was suggested, sounded a little bloodless.

"Oh," said Furmansky, who is executive director of Equality Maryland, the gay and lesbian rights organization.

The problem is, the love that once dared not speak its name now sometimes seems exhausted from talking about it for so long. The stories of human rejection are told, and the walls remain in place. The stories of psychological isolation are recounted, and the emotions are spent, and so the argument becomes more refined and legalistic. But opposing hearts are unmoved, and the laws go unchanged.

And the country goes on dividing itself and demonizing those born with sexuality that is callously branded as disease that can be cured, or as sin that can be cleansed through prayer or therapy, or as frivolous lifestyle choice.

Two weeks ago, in a rally organized by clergy across the state, about 1,000 people gathered outside the State House to hold the legal line against gay marriage in Maryland.

"We are here to affirm that marriage is only between a man and a woman," Lt. Gov. Michael Steele told a cheering crowd, as reported by The Sun's Janice D'Arcy. "We need to make it clear where Maryland stands."

The rally was aimed at supporting a constitutional amendment defining marriage. Maryland law already codifies heterosexual marriage. But since nine gay couples filed a lawsuit in Baltimore Circuit Court last summer, many opponents of gay marriage fear the courts will strike it down.

So they want constitutional reinforcement. Seventeen states now have it. Eleven of them were approved by voters last Election Day. In the immediate aftermath of that election, Furmansky sent a letter, in "pain, sadness and anger," to "Friends of Equality."

Despite legislative setbacks, he said, "more than a majority (61 percent) of those Americans who voted support legal recognition of same-sex couples. ... More Americans than ever are coming to understand discrimination against gays and lesbians and their children is wrong, and that all families deserve the same rights and protections."

And yet, as Furmansky was saying yesterday, "There are waves of anti-gay activities taking hold in the nation. We're hearing the same old accusations of immorality and godlessness and destabilization of society because of our desire to marry.

"In some cases," he said, "it's about politics. It's an opportunity for politicians to distract everybody from the real issues ravaging our communities, and the real problems facing the American family today. But we're saying, we have the same God as you, and our families need stability just like anybody else. And there's no justification for placing discrimination into the constitution."

There came a weariness to Furmansky's tone. He is 30 years old, but says he's already "been around the block a few times." He has headed Equality Maryland for about 15 months. But the arguments about gay and lesbian rights have been going on, full volume, for all of his life.

At a downtown Annapolis hotel yesterday, before the State House rally, Furmansky and other gay rights activists were to meet with some legislators and lobbyists.

"We know," he said, a few hours before that hotel meeting, "that there are plenty of legislators who support us." But not all of them want to do it openly. They want to be kept out of harm's way. The issue's too divisive, too emotionally sticky, and the opposition quick to stigmatize.

"Even the ones who support us," Furmansky said, "would like it to be settled by the courts. The issue's too contentious for a lot of them."

Then his voice grew weary and detached again, and his language more legalistic. The most personal of issues, human sexuality, is now parsed in the numbing vocabulary of lawyers and legislators. Two weeks ago, at the anti-gay marriage rally, the crowd huddled in freezing temperatures. Yesterday, the gay-rights crowd stood in a cold and dreary rain. It's as if a disappointed God himself withdraws light and warmth from the endless debate.

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