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Md.'s top leaders cross Catholic hierarchy on gay marriage

Maryland arguably wouldn't be the most Catholic state to allow gay nuptials.

Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire all have a higher percentage of Catholics than Maryland, which has 27 percent, according to a 2008 national survey. A similar percentage of Maryland legislators are Catholics.

During the debate Thursday, Sen. Robert J. Garagiola (D-Montgomery) said the bill would provide gay couples the same rights he and his wife have enjoyed since their marriage in a Catholic church 14 years ago.

"It's an historic day for equal justice under the law," he said.

Several of his colleagues countered that marriage should be reserved for couples who can fit their definition of "procreation" and urged the Senate not to broaden the bounds of traditional marriage.

Sen. Edward R. Reilly (R-Anne Arundel) read from a bulletin distributed in churches by the Maryland Catholic Conference recently that referred to "the unique union of one man and one woman."

Beyond the power and influence of the Catholic Church in Maryland, there is another potent religious force in the state opposed to same-sex marriage: African American churches.

Some of the most vocal opponents in Thursday's Senate debate were raised in Maryland's black churches.

"Here's my question: Where does it stop?" asked Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George's), who is senior pastor of the Ark of Safety Christian Church of Upper Marlboro. He questioned whether polygamy would one day be acceptable.

Sen. Joanne C. Benson (D-Prince George's) said she grew up watching her father officiate over weddings and came to believe that such unions should be reserved for people who can have children.

"Two people of the same sex cannot produce children," she said.

With attention turning to the House, supporters there acknowledged Thursday that same-sex marriage has been a hard sell with African American lawmakers from Prince George's County, as well as conservative Democrats from Southern Maryland and the Baltimore suburbs.

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