Hundreds of opponents of same-sex marriage rallied in front of the Maryland State House yesterday, filling a pedestrian mall north of the capitol with placards, shouts and speeches calling on the General Assembly to pass an amendment to the state Constitution barring such marriages.
"Maryland is a battleground," U.S. Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett (R-Md.) told the crowd. "We need to make sure our unelected judges here in Maryland understand the will of the people."
A rally by opponents of same-sex marriage brought out lawmakers who promised to seek a state constitutional amendment barring the unions.
(Photos Susan Biddle -- The Washington Post)
Maryland law defines marriage as between a man and woman, but some lawmakers have said they fear the law will not be adequately enforced. So for several years, they have pushed for a constitutional amendment specifically barring such unions.
Del. Charles R. Boutin (R-Harford) said yesterday that he will again submit a bill calling for such an amendment. A similar measure died in committee last year before reaching the House floor, and supporters expect an uphill battle again this year. Amendments must win support from three-fifths of the lawmakers in each chamber, then be placed on the ballot for consideration by voters.
Still, debate on the issue could put Democratic legislative leaders in a bind. Gays have been one of the party's most loyal constituencies, but polls have shown that a majority of Maryland residents oppose same-sex marriage.
State lawmakers in Virginia have said recently that they will push for a similar constitutional amendment. Forty-three states, including Virginia, have laws defining marriage as between a man and a woman.
Yesterday's rally, organized by several churches, filled up Lawyer's Mall -- a space about the size of a city block. Anne Hubbard, spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of General Services, said police estimated the crowd at just under 1,000 people.
The crowd, carrying signs that said "Marriage = One man + One woman," and "Maryland Opposes Same Sex Marriage" cheered raucously at speeches by politicians and pastors, some of whom spoke in Spanish.
Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele (R) briefly addressed the gathering, held on a day when most top state officials were assembled earlier for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s State of the State address.
Steele said that Ehrlich (R) could not attend because he was on his way to New York but that he "is here with you in spirit."
"We gather together not to exclude anyone but to uplift the institution of marriage," he said.
Three miles from the State House rally, at a Unitarian church on the outskirts of Annapolis, gay rights advocates held a news conference that included several gay clergy members and a boy who spoke about his "two moms."
"My mom wants to get married, just like other people that fall in love," said Marcus Penny, 8. "I don't understand why some people want to stop my mom from getting married."
"It's time to stop all the rhetoric," the Rev. Harris Thomas of Unity Fellowship Church of Baltimore said from a podium emblazoned with a placard reading "Don't legislate discrimination."
"In all of my years -- 30 years -- in the ministry, I have not noticed any difference" between homosexual and heterosexual worshipers, he said. "They love the same, they worship the same, they die the same . . . and they deserve rights the same as anybody else."
Maryland legislators in the past few years also have unsuccessfully submitted bills that would prevent same-sex marriages from other states from being validated in Maryland. Del. Emmett C. Burns Jr. (D-Baltimore County) said he will submit a similar measure this year.
With the Massachusetts Supreme Court clearing the way last year for same-sex marriages in that state, there is concern among some lawmakers that Maryland could face court challenges if a married gay couple moves to the state and expects similar rights.
"I think it's more urgent now than it was last year," Burns said of his legislation.