Arguments over procreation, civil rights, religious freedoms, and protection of children punctuated an hours-long Maryland hearing on legalized same-sex marriage Friday, Feb. 10.
Activists on both sides of the debate, including sitting lawmakers, offered personal accounts and legal arguments for members of the House Judiciary and Health and Government Operations Committee who heard testimony into the evening. The committees are considering legislation that could make Maryland the eighth state to legalize same sex unions.
Gov. Martin O'Malley, who put his name on the bill for the first time this year, has repeatedly argued that his legislation will grant necessary legal and financial protections for children of gay and lesbian couples, giving them parity with children of heterosexual, married couples.
“Moms and dads all across the state want the same things for our kids,” O'Malley said. “We want them to live in a loving, caring, committed, and stable home protected equally under the law.”
Opponents of the governor's plan argued that legalizing same-sex marriage would contribute to the dissolution of heterosexual marriage and force public schools to educate students about marriage equality. Some also said sufficient legal protections already exist for same-sex couples and their children.
Sarah Crank, a 14-year-old from Bowie, told the committee that she believes children of gay and lesbian parents are missing out on the benefits of having opposite-gender parents.
“I don't want my friends and me to be taught and encouraged to live this way,” Sarah told the committee.
Sarah's father, Carl Krank, said his daughter has received threats on the Internet since giving similar testimony in the state Senate last week.
The state Senate's Judicial Proceedings Committee heard arguments on the proposal last week, but the battle for passage lies in the House where last year lawmakers rescinded their initial support, citing concerns about religious and family values.
Del. Heather Mizeur, D-Montgomery, whose testimony on the floor of the House last year has been noted by national marriage equality advocates, spoke to the committee along with her wife, Deborah.
She implored delegates, some of whom have yet to publicly say how they will vote on the measure, to support the bill.
“After our time on the floor [last year], having a very robust discussion about this issue, many of you had conversations with me in private about how you believe in your heart that this the right thing to do, but you're scared to vote for this bill,” she said.
The House committees could vote on the issue independently of one another or move forward with a simple majority of the 45 delegates on both House panels.
If both Maryland chambers approve the same-sex marriage bill, opponents say they will petition the measure to referendum in the 2012 general election.
A recent poll conducted by The Washington Post found that half of Maryland residents now support legalizing same-sex marriage.
The committee also heard arguments on legislation from Del. Don Dwyer, R-Anne Arundel, that would let voters decide on a constitutional amendment saying marriage can only be between one man and one woman.
Dwyer, whose proposal is not expected to gain traction, presented his testimony alongside Delegate Emmett Burns, D-Baltimore County, who has railed against legalizing same-sex marriage.
Burns, 71, told committee members that childhood events helped him develop his opinion that gay sexual relationships, and therefore same-sex marriages, are wrong.
The delegate said at ages 12 and 13 he was solicited by two different men, which made him feel uncomfortable. He said he knew the behavior they were asking him to perform “wasn't natural.”
Burns said he had never spoken about the incidents, but felt the committee hearing was an appropriate place to “out” his secret.
Earlier this week, Washington became the seventh state to legalize same-sex marriage, and a federal court overturned a California ban on same-sex marriages.