March 11, 2011 Leave a comment
Things are heating up in Annapolis now. Legislation on redefining marriage within the state of Maryland is making its way through the General Assembly from both sides. The Senate peacefully passed its version of the bill (SB 116) with amendments by a narrow 25-22 vote on Thursday, February 24. This was 1 more than the 24 votes it needed to pass the bill. Now the bill is making its way through the House. There was a hearing on the bill in the House Judiciary committee last Friday, which had a not-surprisingly heavy turn-out. Delegates debated various amendments on March 9 on the floor. Next step? The Big Vote.
In its original form, this legislation would redefine the definition of marriage as it is stated in the state’s constitution under Maryland Family Law, Section 2-201, which says that “only a marriage between a man and a woman is valid in the state.” Amendments were debated during the second reading of the bill, which took place on Wednesday on the House floor. These included provisions that would protect teachers and families from being forced to participate in education within public school systems on the basis of religious beliefs. There was one amendment that proposed changing the name of the bill from “The Civil Marriage Protection Act” to “Same Sex Marriage” Finally, there was an amendment that would have made the passage of the bill contingent on the passage of another bill still in committee (HB 963). However, none of the proposed amendments were successful.
Although this bill has been pushed rather quickly through both chambers, the bill’s progress was put on a hold in the House Judiciary Committee as two Democratic delegates, who co-sponsored the bill and were believed to be strong supporters, refused to vote in Tuesday’s committee meeting. This brought progress to a screeching halt, particularly shocking those who were hoping to see it passed as quickly and easily in the House as it had in the Senate. Delegates Carter (D-Baltimore) and Alston (D-Prince George’s) did not show up to the voting session, meaning they could not commence voting on the legislation. Delegate Carter, who says she still supports same-sex marriage, is hoping that by doing this, she will bring attention to two of her bills which she says are of equal if not more importance. Delegate Alston admits to having second thoughts despite co-sponsoring the bill, explaining that she needed more time to pray about how she will ultimately vote. Even Delegate Stukes has withdrawn his support, saying that he had been under the impression that the legislation would allow civil unions, not marriage.
When it comes to arguments for the bill, proponents took a bleeding-heart approach in their testimonies, advocating that it was time to extend “rights” to all Marylanders and the need to stand up for and recognize love. As the primary sponsor of HB 55, Delegate Luiz Simmons argued during the hearing that there is no evidence that marriage for same-sex couples would diminish the institution of marriage or of procreation. In response to arguments that God does not approve of same-sex relationships, he inanely stated “God has not signed the witness list.” Other panelists, who included openly gay Delegates Heather Mizeur and Anne Kaiser, along with other supportive legislators and citizens, made the argument that simply creating civil unions in the state would ultimately create a second-class citizen status for homosexuals. Senator Raskin, in a written statement, said that it is a “fundamental wrong” not to provide the fundamental right of marriage to all Marylanders.
On the other hand, opponents of HB 55 and SB 116 took a traditional stand, arguing for the same sentiments that guided the founders. Delegate Don Dwyer, the most publicly staunch opponent of the bill among Republican legislators in the House, bravely and poignantly opened his testimony in prayer. The arguments against the bill ultimately say that this is not a civil rights issue; marriage is a religious institution recognized by the state, and it is not up to the legislators to attempt to re-define it. They also argue that allowing same-sex marriage would alter and harm our society because marriage is for the purpose of creating new life, and children need both a mother and a father. Multiple former homosexuals even protested that the gay lifestyle is unhealthy and dangerous based on their personal experiences. They claimed that homosexuals are simply rebelling against moral foundations while forcing legislators and Americans in general to embrace their lifestyle lest they be deemed bigots or old-fashioned.
This is not an easy issue and cannot be taken lightly. So many peoples’ lives are involved and affected directly by the results of this legislation. Not only will it affect the institution of marriage within this state, but it will also make a serious impact on the economy, the social structure, and the education system to which we are accustomed. The Delegates in Annapolis are likely to vote on this issue by the end of this week. Many predict that it will pass the House and that it is highly likely that it will end up in referendum for the people to decide. Whatever happens, this issue is without a doubt the most crucial and dominant piece of legislation to be introduced in the 2011 session.