ANNAPOLIS – Hanna Christianson is a 16-year-old student at Wilde Lake High School in Columbia. Like many of her friends, she runs track and studies hard. But unlike most of her peers, Christianson has two moms.
Christianson told her story Thursday to a House of Delegates committee to oppose a bill that would add an amendment to the state constitution banning the teaching of same-sex relationships in public schools.
“If it’s not allowed to be taught, it doesn’t mean that same-sex relationships are going to go away,” Christianson said. “Kids will think there’s something wrong if they don’t learn about it.”
In addition to banning same-sex education in public schools, the proposed amendment would define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. If the bill passes the General Assembly, the amendment would appear on the ballot for the 2008 general election.
More than 70 people showed up at the hearing before the Judiciary Committee, some for the bill, some against.
“If they are trying to teach it in school as the right thing when society doesn’t believe it, it confuses children on what marriage is,” said Carol Rogers, a stay-at-home mom from Charles County, who spoke in favor of the bill.
Other people said they supported the bill because it gave Maryland voters a chance to decide.
“We feel that the people of Maryland should get a vote one way or another,” said Joe DiMarco, a legislative liaison for Concerned Women for America of Maryland, a conservative lobbying group, which favors the amendment.
According to a draft of the voluntary state curriculum, which suggests what students should be taught in public schools, fifth-graders learn how relationships change with peers and family throughout puberty. In seventh-grade, students learn how to identify and describe the components of a healthy relationship. In grades nine through 12, students learn how to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy relationships.
But, the voluntary state curriculum for health education does not direct local school systems or teachers on instruction of same-sex relationships.
Some supporters of the bill said that they believe sex education should come from home and not from schools.
“Sex-ed begins at home with how the parents act and conduct themselves,” said Robert P. Duckworth, clerk of the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County. “You don’t know what values or preferences the teacher might have.”
Duckworth said that he wanted to protect marriage because it was the “best institutional framework for children, since it provides a child with a mother and a father.”
But Duckworth’s remarks brought no sympathy from at least one of the delegates.
“Can you tell us about the sad, dismal state of heterosexual marriage and how opposing gay marriage is going to solve it?” Delegate Luiz Simmons, D-Montgomery County, asked Duckworth.
Duckworth answered the question by saying that he would like to see the people decide the course of marriage.
But, the opposition said that defining marriage creates a civil rights issue.
“Gays are not against marriage, they just want the same civil rights that are available to everyone else,” said Michael Cornell, former co-chair for the Maryland Green Party. “We support the rights of all people regardless of race, religion or gender.”
Whatever side people were on, the bill prompted some to speak from experience.
The bill’s sponsor, Delegate Donald H. Dwyer, R-Anne Arundel County, told a story about his gay uncle who died the 1970s of what, Dwyer said, would later have been diagnosed as AIDS.
In 1968 when he was 10 years old, his mom and dad sat him down at the table and explained to him that his uncle was “not like” them because he was gay.
“But there was nothing gay about his lifestyle, he was miserable, abused by other men that he had relationships with,” he said. “I have no hatred for the gay community my heart goes out to them, it truly does.”
Christianson said she believes that same-sex marriages do not harm heterosexual marriages. She said she wants to keep same-sex education in schools to help people understand families like hers.
“It’s always hard telling a person for the first time,” she said. “It’s hard to expect how certain people will react.”