ANNAPOLIS – Supporters of a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage brought their fight back to Annapolis Wednesday and urged legislators to give the people of Maryland a chance to vote on the issue.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve taken a high school government course,” Pastor David Whitney of Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church in Pasadena, told a Senate committee, “but if my memory serves me right, the emphasis was on the people, not the courts.”
Wednesday’s Senate hearing was much less raucous than the yelling, booing and jeering at a House committee hearing three weeks ago. The House committee killed the bill, leaving action by the Senate the best chance the proponents have for getting the measure on the November ballot.
Backers of the amendment stressed the precedent they said would be set by blocking a public vote on the issue, arguing that this would subvert the democratic process, and that it would cause a degradation of Maryland’s families and values.
But opponents of the constitutional amendment, with one victory already behind them, appeared much more confident and optimistic they would prevail.
“We’re not in the business of smoke and mirrors,” said Daniel J. Furmansky, executive director of Equality Maryland, an advocacy group leading the bill’s opposition. “Truth, justice, morality and time stand with us and our arguments speak for themselves.”
Senator Larry E. Haines, R – Baltimore County and Carroll County, introduced the bill discussed at the Wednesday hearing February 3, the day after the House bill was defeated in committee.
His bill, entitled Valid Marriages, is different than the House bill in that the constitutional amendment it would put on the ballot would simply state that marriage is between a man and a woman.
The House bill, which was called The Marriage Protection Act, would have also put legislation in the state constitution invalidating certain types of civil unions.
“It is more clear than ever that the majority of American citizens believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman,” Haines said. “At least give the citizens of this state the opportunity to vote on this issue.”
Republicans, joined by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, have been pushing for a constitutional amendment since January, when Baltimore Circuit Court Judge M. Brooke Murdock struck down a 1973 law barring same sex marriage. The ruling was stayed pending appeal.
Supporters of the bill repeatedly said that they felt that Murdock’s ruling was out of line, and that she was undermining the power of the legislature, and of the American people, to create and change laws.
Delegate Donald H. Dwyer Jr., R – Anne Arundel, one of the leading proponents of the gay marriage ban, says he wants to impeach Murdock, alleging in a statement that she “is unfit to serve,” citing “documented legislative history, case law, and decades of Attorney General opinions” as evidence.
Lisa Polyak, a gay woman who was one of the 19 plaintiffs in the case decided by Judge Murdock, offered some of the most fervent opposition to Haines’ bill.
“Do you want to be remembered as the guy who stood on the steps and said ‘segregation now, segregation always’? Or do you want to be remembered as the guy who said ‘I have a dream’?” she asked the committee, invoking civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. This bill is one of a total of at least five bills proposed this session with language that would define marriage as between a man and a woman. As of Wednesday, no bills had been proposed this session to protect same-sex marriage.