Gay marriage debated before House committee

Activists from both sides speak out on 2 measures

General Assembly

February 25, 2005|By Sumathi Reddy | Sumathi Reddy,STAFF WRITER

Opponents and supporters of same-sex marriage brought the nationally divisive debate before Maryland's House Judiciary Committee yesterday at a hearing on a bill calling for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage and a bill to ensure that same-sex marriages performed in other states or countries not be valid in Maryland.

Similar bills have failed in past years, and the measures are given little chance of passage this year.

Still, clergy, activists and citizens on both sides - including some children of gay couples - filled the committee room.

Del. Emmett C. Burns Jr., a Baltimore County Democrat, testified on behalf of his bill, which would invalidate same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.

"Right now the front door for same-sex marriage is closed," Burns said. "But I submit that the back door is open because the law says nothing about marriage coming into Maryland from other jurisdictions."

While the state has a law defining marriage as a union between a man and woman, opponents of same-sex marriage have repeatedly pushed for a constitutional amendment, which would have to be approved by voters.

Del. Charles R. Boutin, a Republican representing Harford and Cecil counties, is sponsoring the amendment again. Last year his bill died in the House Judiciary Committee.

Del. Donald H. Dwyer Jr., an Anne Arundel Republican and co-sponsor of the bill, called the issue "monumental" and perhaps the "largest issue" the legislators will ever face. "We have been warned by other states ... not to let [the approval of gay marriage] happen in our state," Dwyer said.

But for others, like 8-year-old Marcus Penny, the issue made no sense. "If the law already says my moms can't get married, why do we need an amendment that says the same thing?" he said.

Duncan Morgen-Westrick, 12, of Baltimore County said he and his 10-year-old brother were adopted at birth. "I have a normal life," he said. "The only thing that is not normal is that my parents can't get married and that is frustrating.

"Please don't pass these laws," he told the lawmakers. "They will hurt me and they will hurt my family."

Gay rights activists said it was disheartening that instead of coming out to support a bill to advance their rights, they have to continue to fight anti-gay legislation.

"You're codifying discrimination against families like mine," said Lisa Polyak, a Baltimore City resident who is among the nine gay couples who filed a lawsuit challenging the state law that defines marriage as between a man and woman.

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