Intense Religious Opposition Thwarts Maryland Same-Sex Marriage Bill

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Journalist

Even though it was widely expected to pass, Maryland’s same-sex marriage bill will be shelved for another year after a last minute effort from black churches and the Maryland Catholic Conference influenced a majority of House members to turn against the bill.

The Baptist Press is reporting that Maryland’s House of Delegates voted on Friday to send the pending same-sex marriage bill back to committee after the leadership determined that they lacked the votes to pass it. The Maryland Senate passed the bill on Feb. 25 by a slim margin of 25-21, and it was expected that the House would also pass it, although the prospects there were more uncertain.

The Maryland Catholic Conference along with pastors from predominantly black churches mounted an effort to dissuade lawmakers from passing the bill which resulted in House leaders being unable to garner enough Democratic support to pass the bill.

Two members of the black caucus switched from being co-sponsors of the bill to opposing it. Delegate Cheryl Glenn, a member of the caucus, said: “The black churches – since I’ve been here – have never asked us for anything, that I can recall. They are asking now, ‘Don’t use the word marriage.'”

Maryland’s bill, known as the Civil Marriage Protection Act (SB116) authorizes same-sex marriage in the state and provides that clergy not be required to solemnize marriages in violation of their free exercise of religion. It also exempts religious organizations from provisions calling for non-discrimination in public accommodations and insurance when they refuse on religious grounds to provide facilities, services or benefits for same-sex marriages.

Proponents of same-sex marriage were disappointed but are vowing to fight on.

“While we are disappointed the House did not vote to pass marriage equality today, we are confident we will win in the future,” said spokespersons for Equality Maryland.

“With so much at stake today for thousands of Maryland families, we are thankful that our legislative allies have taken such care with this vote. It is best to delay this historic vote until we are absolutely sure we have the votes to win. We look forward to working strategically with our amazing allies in the legislature, and our supporters across the state, to continue to build support for, and win, marriage equality in the Free State.”

Melissa Goemann, legislative director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland called it a “sad day for all Marylanders who care about equality and justice.”

“The Senate’s passage of the bill was a historic milestone in Maryland, and we get closer and closer with each passing year. We have faith that love, fairness, and equality will prevail in the end, and we will redouble our efforts to hasten that day.”

Opponents of the bill are also vowing to fight on.

“Kudos to those brave Maryland delegates who defied the arm-twisting and political pressures to do the right thing: listen to your constituents,” said Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage.

“We pledge to be there over the long haul to help all pro-marriage Democrats, many of whom have been subject to reprehensible attacks for standing up for marriage. This victory comes from the people of Maryland whose quiet, under-reported, but extraordinary outpouring of opposition to redefining marriage is the reason for this victory. Not only did marriage win, but democracy won today.”

The Maryland Catholic Conference also expressed elation at its defeat.

“We commend the decision of the Maryland House of Delegates to effectively reject legislation to redefine marriage,” said the Conference in a statement.

“The decision to recommit the bill to committee indicates clearly that a majority of the chamber’s members are opposed to this legislation, despite the enormous political pressure they were under to vote against their conscience and the interests of their constituents. This result also demonstrates the powerful impact that conscientious conviction can bring to the public square when it bears witness with respect and compassion to values with deep moral consequence.”

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