WASHINGTON – Sheron Rosen’s two sons grew up together in the same Gaithersburg home, summered at the same camps, celebrated their bar mitzvah at the same temple and are now both grown and married.
But one son is gay. And under Maryland law, that means his “marriage” — which was consecrated in a civil union ceremony three years ago — is not legal. That makes Rosen angry.
“I just want for my gay son, the exact same rights and benefits his brother gets by virtue of his birth,” she said.
That would be a mistake, say some Maryland legislators.
“Our society is best served by a policy that recognizes that marriage between a man and a woman best serves our needs and the needs of our children,” said Delegate Herbert McMillan, R-Anne Arundel.
Gay-marriage opponents recently kicked off a national push for a proposed amendment to the Constitution that would define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
“It (same-sex marriage) sends a bad message to kids, it undermines the family and it encourages homosexual activists to make even more demands,” said Robert Knight, director of the Culture and Family Institute — one of more than 20 conservative and religious organizations that got together this month to back the marriage amendment.
The Federal Marriage Amendment was introduced in the House on May 21 by Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, R-Colo., and has since garnered 96 co-sponsors, including Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick. The bill was referred on June 25 to the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, but no action has been taken on it since.
The push for the bill comes as Vermont has recognized same-sex marriages and Massachusetts courts are looking into doing the same thing. The Supreme Court this summer struck down a Texas law banning sodomy.
But supporters of the ban have a long way to go: Constitutional amendments require approval by two-thirds of both the House and Senate, and must then be ratified by legislatures in three-fourths of the states within seven years, or the proposal dies.
A September Gallup poll showed the nation pretty evenly divided over the issue. When asked whether they felt gay or lesbian couples should — or should not — be allowed the same rights as married couples in every state, 32 percent said they should, 35 percent said they should not and 32 percent said it did not matter.
And even supporters of the ban concede that a constitutional amendment is strong medicine.
“We should move very carefully when we amend the Constitution,” McMillan said. He noted that the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which said that states are not obligated to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, “may be adequate in protecting the right to marriage.”
It is unclear how the proposed constitutional amendment would fare in Maryland, where several businesses and local governments have extended spousal-type benefits to workers’ domestic partners and where the state Democratic Party chairman said the issue should be studied more closely.
Advocates say Maryland is slightly above average in its treatment of gays, due to the number and range of gay-rights protections it has adopted. Those include a 2001 law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in housing, employment and accommodations. But, said Rosen, “there’s room to grow.”
The 2000 Census, which measured same-sex households for the first time, said that about 10 percent of all unmarried households in Maryland were same-sex households. Gay groups believe that number is too low, claiming that many gays are still not open about their sexuality.
At stake for gay couples in the same-sex marriage debate is access to many benefits that married couples take for granted, such as health care coverage and spousal access to Social Security, Veteran’s Administration and other benefits, for example.
While some private companies are beginning to extend health benefits to “domestic partners,” or same-sex partners — including more than three dozen Maryland businesses — many still do not.
“This is about equality under the law,” said Rosen, who heads the Washington-area branch of Parents and Friends of Gays and Lesbians.
Rosen hopes, for her son’s sake, that the state at least extends health-care coverage to domestic partners and that the constitutional marriage amendment never passes. But even if it does, she said, opponents to same-sex relationships will only have won the battle, not the war.
“One of the things that people miss is that, whether it’s legally recognized or not, whether or not the amendment gets passed — we are here to stay,” she said.