Support for gay marriage

March 13, 2009|By Laura Smitherman | Laura Smitherman,

A freedom rider, a former Republican congressman and the state's chief legal officer banded together yesterday to testify in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage in Maryland - evidence that proponents say shows the issue is gaining momentum.

Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler appeared for the second year in a row before a General Assembly committee to testify for the legislation. This year, he was joined by former U.S. Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, who lost the Republican primary last year after 18 years in Congress, and Travis Britt, an African-American civil rights activist and widower of the late Sen. Gwendolyn T. Britt, who was to be the lead sponsor of the bill before her death last year.

That the three men from disparate backgrounds are on the same side of this issue shows it transcends political party and racial lines, Gansler said.

Proponents acknowledge that passage of the bill is unlikely this year, but they said they have added co-sponsors. Even in the coming years, Gansler said, lawmakers are more likely to approve civil unions, though he characterized that as a separate and unequal institution.

The House Judiciary Committee also heard a bill calling for a constitutional amendment outlawing gay marriage. That measure has the support of most Republican lawmakers, who argue that voters should weigh in. Gilchrest came out of political retirement to share a personal view of the issue - his brother David is gay and married to his longtime partner in Massachusetts. Gilchrest, who opposed changing the U.S. Constitution to ban gay marriage, argued that the unions should be allowed as a matter of "social justice, civil rights and a more viable democracy."

Britt, who met his wife while on a freedom ride against discrimination in public transportation in the 1960s, said he understands what it means to fight for equality. "Any couple in love should have the right to marry," he said. "Civil rights for gays and lesbians are just as important as civil rights for anybody else."

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