The Maryland Catholic Conference on Tuesday called a new same-sex marriage bill introduced by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) a distraction from more important issues and dismissed language in the legislation that seeks to clarify religious exemptions as “ambiguous.”
“At a time when Marylanders are struggling to find jobs, keep their homes and feed their families, our elected officials should focus their attention on the pressing needs of the state, not on dismantling Maryland’s long-standing law defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman,” Mary Ellen Russell, the organization’s executive director, said in a statement.
The assessment came about three hours after the governor and other advocates for same-sex marriage wrapped up a news conference on the front steps of Government House touting the legislation, which O’Malley formally introduced Monday night.
O’Malley, who hosted a breakfast in his home for gay couples before the news conference, told reporters that momentum was growing for a bill supported by “a broad coalition” that includes religious leaders.
At the news conference, the Rev. Starlene Joyner Burns of SJB Ministries in Bowie acknowledged the opposition of some in the religious community but said that view is hardly universal.
“The tide is turning in Maryland and throughout the country,” Burns said. “It has everything to do with fairness.”
O’Malley said that his new bill offered “more explicit” religious protections than the same-sex marriage legislation that passed the Maryland Senate last year but fell short in the House of Delegates.
Among other things, the governor’s bill plainly states that religious groups have exclusive control over their theological doctrines and expands protections against lawsuits over an officiant’s refusal to perform same-sex marriages.
In her statement, Russell said the new language does not go far enough.
“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,” she said. “Moreover, the exemptions do nothing to address religious liberties for the average citizen.”
In a later interview, Russell acknowledged that there was no religious exemption language that would lead her group to support the bill.
“Our opposition is to the issue itself,” she said. “It’s like asking if you could support abortion if the church is exempted.”
The Senate is expected to hold a hearing on the bill next week.