Same-sex marriage has good chance of approval, Maryland Senate leader says

By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 8, 2011; 10:41 PM

Supporters of same-sex marriage came to Annapolis on Tuesday armed with personal stories, emotional pleas for equal treatment and arguments about how allowing gay couples to marry could help Maryland's economy.

Opponents countered with biblical verses, research suggesting that children are better off with both a mother and a father, and warnings that "redefining marriage" could undermine other social institutions.

In all, about 140 witnesses signed up to testify on the highest-profile social issue facing the Maryland General Assembly this year. The committee hearing spanned more than seven hours.

Before the proceedings, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) put the chance of passing a same-sex marriage bill by his chamber at 60 to 70 percent, saying a vote could come next week.

If the bill clears the Senate, then the House of Delegates, typically the more liberal chamber on social issues, would take up the issue, deciding whether Maryland should join the District and five states that allow same-sex marriage.

'A badge of dishonor'

In the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee room, some of the most powerful testimony Tuesday was offered by an openly gay lawmaker, Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., who called it "a badge of dishonor" to have to introduce people to his "partner."

"We had a church wedding 10 years ago this year, and in the eyes of our religion, our families, our friends and in my heart, he is my spouse," Madaleno (D-Montgomery) said. "But under Maryland's civil law, he is a legal stranger to me."

Although some religious leaders testified in favor of the bill, opponents were bolstered by a parade of clergy members urging lawmakers to maintain Maryland's law, which limits marriage to a man and a woman.

"Your concern should not be pandering to the political move of the day but truthfully working to foster conditions which unequivocally have been proven to be the best environment for children and families," said Derek McCoy, a Beltsville pastor who is president of the Maryland Family Alliance. "Children do better economically, socially and educationally when raised by a mom and a dad."

Underscoring the intense interest in the legislation, an overflow room was set up in which a few hundred people who could not squeeze into the committee room could watch the proceedings on two large screens.

'Less of a citizen'

The same-sex marriage bill is expected to draw very little Republican support in the Maryland legislature - where Democrats hold lopsided majorities in both chambers. But to show some bipartisan support, several Republicans testified in favor of the measure early in Tuesday's proceedings.

Among them was Chrysovalantis P. Kefalas, who served as deputy legal counsel to former Maryland governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R). Kefalas said Ehrlich has continued to oppose same-sex marriage. But Kefalas said he considers the legislation to be consistent with Republican principles of freedom and limited government.

Kefalas also disclosed that he is gay and long struggled to accept his identify.

"Under present law, I'm considered less of a citizen than many of you," he told the committee.

Sen. Allan H. Kittleman (Howard), the only GOP senator to have announced support for the bill, also testified, appearing on the first panel with Madaleno and Sen. Robert J. Garagiola (D-Montgomery), the bill's lead sponsor.

"I don't speak for all Republicans in Maryland, but I speak for a lot of them," said Kittleman, who stepped down last month as Senate minority leader after getting flak for saying he would introduce a bill allowing civil unions.

Last week, Kittleman changed his mind and decided to support the marriage bill.

'Religious freedom'

Tuesday's hearing grew combative at several points, particularly during testimony by Austin R. Nimocks, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, a national organization that seeks to defend "religious freedom."

Nimocks argued that government should keep marriage between a man and a woman as an incentive to foster "responsible procreation."

"Men and women still comprise the two great halves of humanity," Nimocks said. "It matters that a child has a mom and a dad."

At several points in the hearing, proponents argued otherwise. Referring to Madaleno and his children, Garagiola said, "That is a very happy family."

In response to questioning by senators, Nimocks acknowledged that children of some same-sex couples could be better off than children of some heterosexual couples. But he said research has shown that in most cases, the best situation for a child is "a low-conflict marraige" between a man and a woman.

Mary Ellen Russell, executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference, made a similar argument in written testimony.

"Erasing from law the uniqueness of the relationship between men and women and the distinction of that relationship from any other relationship would deny to future generations a recognition of our natural origin that lies at the very core of who we are as human beings," Russell said.

Earlier in the hearing, Ryan Spiegel, a member of the Gaithersburg City Council, offered a different perspective, arguing that Maryland hotels and cake makers would be among the beneficiaries of legalizing same-sex marraige. He called the legislation "the right thing to do from an economic standpoint."

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