Constitutional Ban on Gay Marriage Picks Up Heat in Maryland

Religious leaders and same-sex marriage advocates rallied Tuesday in a heated debate over a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban homosexual marriage in Maryland.

Religious leaders and same-sex marriage advocates rallied Tuesday in a heated debate over a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban homosexual marriage in Maryland.

After the 1973 law defining marriage between one man and one woman was challenged as discriminatory and unconstitutional by a Baltimore Circuit Court judge last week, social conservatives immediately took action, calling for the General Assembly to vote to lock in the state's ban against same-sex marriage.

Judge M. Brooke Murdock struck down the state law last Thursday "because it discriminates based on gender against a suspect class; and is not narrowly tailored to serve any compelling governmental interests."

Meredith Moise, a deacon at St. Sebastian Contemporary Catholic Church in Baltimore and field organizer of Equality Maryland, was joined by fellow members in a rally opposing the constitutional ban.

Equality Maryland is Maryland's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization that pushes for marriage equality for same-sex couples.

Other local religious leaders, including Bishop Harry R. Jackson Jr. of Hope Christian Church in College Park, Md., had previously shown support for such an amendment illegalizing homosexual marriage. For the past couple of years, evangelical ministers of African-American churches have debated over the issue, many of whom stood against same-sex marriage.

"If a constitutional amendment is necessary to preserve marriage as it has always been defined in terms of male and female, then I fully support it," said the Rev. Daniel T. Mangrum of Cornerstone Peaceful Bible Baptist Church in Upper Marlboro, Md. "I think it's unfortunate that it reached a point where a constitutional amendment is necessary to verify something that is so clear and has always been the case."

The pastor stated that gay marriage was not in the same category as the civil rights issue.

"It's a moral issue," he said. "I don't agree with the assumption that homosexuality is something that you are born with or that is an innate quality that you have no control over. Homosexuality is a sexual choice."

With the 2006 United States General Election ahead, Republicans are pushing the ban amendment forward with hopes of an increased voter turnout in November while Democrats seek to delay the issue until after the elections or at least keep the case in the courts as an appeal.

Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said in an interview with The Washington Post, "My politics on this are very clear. We're going to protect marriage. Traditional marriage."

Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery) said he didn't want the "gubernatorial election, or any other election, tangled up in this issue."

A hearing on the amendment, sponsored by Delegate Don Dwyer, is scheduled for Jan. 31. States that have constitutional amendments banning gay marriage total 19.