ANNAPOLIS – Religious leaders who said they represent 11 denominations and over 240 Maryland congregations denounced on Tuesday the movement to pass a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
“Maryland is the Free State,” Dave Melson, director of the Washington, D.C. chapter of Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons said. “We have the opportunity to lead the country. We’d like to make sure we do that – that we’re moving forward and that we’re not moving backward to restrict the rights of the people of Maryland.”
The news conference came in the wake of a ruling Friday by Baltimore Circuit Court Judge M. Brooke Murdock which struck down the 1973 law barring the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Judge Murdock stayed action on the ruling pending appeal. Governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. asked the state Attorney General to begin “a vigorous appeals process” to overrule the decision, a task the Attorney General accepted.
Ehrlich has hinted that he may support a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. One bill to do that has already been introduced, by Delegate Donald H. Dwyer, D – Anne Arundel. Senator Richard F. Colburn, R – Eastern Shore, has introduced such measures in past years and has said he may do so again.
Speakers at the rally took issue with using a term such as “civil union” to describe a permanently committed, homosexual relationship.
“We shouldn’t duck the use of the word marriage,” John Deckenback, Conference Minister for the United Church of Christ said, “And create other words that mean the same thing, because marriage connotes rights, privileges and responsibilities. It’s a highly symbolic word.”
Whether the view expressed at the press conference is the mainstream view among religious leaders is debatable.
“Marriage is ordained of God and the family is sacred and it is between a man and a woman. Anything else is sin,” Reverend Gregory Perkins, of East Baltimore’s St. Paul Community Baptist Church, said. “I donÕt care what the Legislature does. I would never under any circumstances take part in the marriage of two people of the same sex. That is an abomination. That is not my word, that is what the Bible says.” Some members of groups which have been traditionally opposed to same-sex marriage, such as the black clergy and Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or Mormons, came to Annapolis to show support for the decision overturning the ban on gay marriage.
“Is it right or just for any constitution to give rights to some people that it withholds from others?” Rev. Doreion Carter, of First United Church of Christ in Baltimore, who is black, asked. “And is that really what God wants? That’s an easy question to answer, isn’t it? It doesn’t matter – gay or lesbian or transsexual – this is just an unjust movement.”
Rev. Perkins, who is also black, said he understands opposing arguments, but he feels the tenets and scriptures of the Christian faith do not support such a viewpoint.
“It is immoral in the sense that it violates the very nature of God,” he said. “I believe that God loves the homosexual and God loves the lesbian. God despises homosexuality and lesbianism.”
Rev. John Crestwell, of Davies Memorial Unitarian Universalist Church in Camp Springs, drew comparisons between the struggle for gay rights and the civil rights movement, and quoted Martin Luther King, Jr. in his speech at the conference, a stance which angers many black religious leaders.
“To say that they face discrimination and bigotry as we face discrimination and bigotry is ludicrous, absolutely,” Rev. Perkins said. “We were institutionally discriminated against. I believe that the gay and lesbian lifestyle is a choice, that these are people who choose to live that way. In fact nobody would even know that someone is gay or lesbian unless they wanted to make it known.”
In response to Mormons who support gay marriage, David Premont, director of the Institute for Religion, a College Park Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints organization, quoted a 1995 “proclamation to the world” by the church’s First Presidency and Quorum of Twelve Apostles.
“We declare that God’s commandment for his children to multiply and replenish remains in force,” he quoted. “We further declare that God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between a man and woman lawfully wedded as husband and wife.”
Jewish groups were also represented at the conference. Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, noted that Jewish religious leaders are not unanimous on the issue of same-sex marriage, but they are almost exclusively against discrimination.
“The proposed amendment to the Maryland Constitution moves backward, not forward,” he said.
Groups including The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, American Civil Liberties Union, Soulforce and Equality Rights Maryland lent support to the conference by writing letters or providing brochures explaining their pro-gay marriage stances.
Equality Maryland was instrumental in setting up and carrying out the gathering, and led the affiliated groups in providing assistance. After the conference, the assorted clergy members walked two blocks to the House and Senate office buildings where they distributed copies of a letter written by Equality Maryland urging legislators to take their side of the issue into account.