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Same-sex marriage (SSM) activity in Maryland

2011-NOV to 2012-JAN: More Roman Catholic
opposition. Lobbying dollars. 2012 SSM Legislation.

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This is a continuation from a previous essay

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2011-NOV-11: Roman Catholic bishops in Maryland issue document warning of danger to religious liberty and freedom (Cont'd):

The Maryland Catholic Conference of Roman Catholic bishops has issued a 16-page statement titled: "The Most Sacred of All Property: Religious Freedom and the People of Maryland.1 It claims that the Church's religious liberty is threatened because the state might legalize same-sex marriages and other measures that run counter to its positions.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees that the government will not interfere with religious beliefs and practices. So, priests will be continue to deny a marriage sacrament to any couple for any reason with impunity. In the past, the church has refused to marry persons with a valid marriage license from their state:

  • Who had been previously married but had not obtained an annulment from the Church, or
  • Who were not sufficiently mature according to the priest's assessment, or
  • Where one person was physically disabled, or
  • Where the couple is of the same gender.

This will continue in the future whether SSM is introduced or not. But if marriage equality comes to Maryland, there might be problems with businesses run by Catholics -- like flower stores, wedding dress stores, wedding photographers, etc. who normally deal with the public. These business owners might want to discriminate against same-sex couples. They could run afoul of the human rights/discrimination laws in the city or state. Actually, the problem may not be as serious as some think because the Catholic laity is more supportive of SSM than is the American population generally, even as the Catholic hierarchy is totally opposed.

The Catholic Church has a valid point: the religious freedom of their members may be impacted negatively if SSM is approved. However, it is not religious freedom of the traditional form that would be limited -- like freedom of belief, freedom of assembly, freedom to conduct rituals, etc. Rather it would be their members' freedom to denigrate, discriminate against, and oppress sexual minorities.

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Lobbying the MD General Assembly in 2011:

The Baltimore Sun discussed the flow of money from special interest groups to influence the votes of the legislators. They obtained data from the Maryland Ethics Commission which indicated that:

  • The seventh highest spender was the Human Rights Campaign, a national group active in promoting equality for LGBTs. They spent $380,000. They are expected to play an even greater role in 2012.

  • The National Organization for Marriage, a national group attempting to deny same-sex couples the right to marry spent $165,000. 2

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2012-JAN-16: Two House committees will review bill:

House Speaker Michael E. Busch said that two House committees would review the legislation instead of the usual one: the Judiciary Committee and the Health and Government Operations Committee. This might increase the bill's chances for passage. Support for SSM on the latter committee appears stronger because it often has dealt with civil rights matters in the past.

Busch said:

" I think it clearly falls under the jurisdiction of both committees. Whether it’s assigned to one committee, two committees or three committees, it doesn’t change the dynamic of what needs to be accomplished if the bill is going to be passed."

Del. Heather R. Mizeur (D), who is openly gay, said:

"Our chances are strong this year with the support of the governor, but there are no guarantees, and there’s a lot of work ahead. It’s going to be as hard-fought as last year."

Governor O’Malley said:

"There’s probably 15 to 20 delegates who, to some degree, are supportive of a bill that protects religious freedoms and marital rights equally. We have been having conversations all through the course of the year."

Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D), who is gay predicted:

"There will be 25 [Senate] votes again in favor of the bill, so [Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.'s (D)] desire and mine is to move as quickly as possible."

A similar bill passed the Senate last year with a vote of 25 to 21. 5

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2012-JAN-23: Governor O'Malley unveils legislation on SSM:

Governor O'Malley formally unveiled his legislation to legalize SSM in Maryland during the new legislative session. In common with the laws that legalized SSM in New York State and elsewhere, the bill contains two main components:

  • The first would legalize SSM.

  • The second would give religious groups and their clergy unhindered religious freedom to discriminate against loving, committed same-sex couples by refusing to solemnizing such marriages. This appears to be an attempt to defuse the fear-based assertions by many faith groups that a SSM law would restrict their religious freedom. It appears to be largely redundant, because the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution already protects religious groups from government intrusion. For centuries in the U.S., clergy have rejected requests for a marriage sacrament or ceremony on any grounds that they found reasonable. Some have assessed the couple as not being mature or sufficiently committed to marriage. Some have declined to marry a mixed-faith couple, or a mixed-race couple. The Roman Catholic Church has even refused to marry couples where one spouse was physically disabled. There has never been any penalty from the government or courts.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D) said that the religious freedom component is "a clarification" in response to some delegates' concerns last year. He said:

"It’s meant to draw a clear line that it won’t impact anyone’s religious ceremonies or religious beliefs. We certainly don’t want to infringe on [religious] doctrines or ceremonies." 3

Following a breakfast meeting of same-sex couples at Government House on JAN-24, Governor O'Malley said:

"We have done our very best in the drafting of this bill to make very, very, very explicit the protections of religious liberty as well as the protection of rights equally under the law, and it’s my hope that that will not only allow more support in the House of Delegates but, as importantly, I hope it will allow more people throughout our state to be able to support this bill. One does not have to be an advocate for same-sex marriage in order to support equal rights under the law."

According to the Associated Press:

"This year’s legislation spells out that religious groups have exclusive control over their own theological doctrine, policy, teachings, and beliefs. The bill also makes it clear that there is a difference between civil marriage and religious marriage. Religious groups and their leaders won’t be required to conduct marriage ceremonies or include same-sex couples in their marriage-related programs. They also won’t be subject to a lawsuit or punishment by the state for declining to do so. ... The governor has emphasized the importance of passing the legislation so that children raised by same-sex couples are equally protected under the law."

Religious opposition to the proposed law is high:

  • Delegate Emmett Burns (D) who is a black pastor is against SSM. He said: "We’re organized. We were not last year. We are this year."

  • Mary Ellen Russell, executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference, -- a group of Roman Catholic bishops -- released a statement saying: "The bill’s limited exemptions for religious organizations remain ambiguous and by no means cover the host of circumstances that would create a conflict between the government and faith institutions if marriage is redefined." 4

The new legislative session began on 2012-JAN-11 and will last for 90 days until mid-April.

There is a general consensus that if the bill were to be passed, religious groups would immediately organize a citizen initiative to place a SSM referendum on the ballot election day in 2012-NOV.

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Discussion of this topic continues...

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Governor’s Decision to Sponsor Same-sex Marriage Bill is Regrettable," Press Release, Maryland Catholic Conference, 2011-JUL-22, at: http://www.mdcathcon.org/
  2. Annie Linskey, "Who paid the most to influence the General Assembly last session?," Baltimore Sun, 2011-DEC-21, at: http://www.baltimoresun.com/
  3. John Wagner & Aaron Davis, "O’Malley unveils agenda, including same-sex marriage bill," Washington Post, 2012-JAN-23, at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/
  4. "Md. Gov. O’Malley hosts meeting with same-sex marriage supporters; discusses legislation," Associated Press, 2012-JAN-24, at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/
  5. John Wagner, "Md. same-sex legislation to be examined in two committees, House speaker says," Washington Post, 2012-JAN-16, at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/

Site navigation: Home > Homosexuality > Same-sex marriage > Menu > MD > here

Copyright © 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2011-MAR
Latest update: 2012-FEB-12
Author: B.A. Robinson

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