At a recent meeting hosted by the Maryland Marriage Alliance, the lead organization fighting to overturn the state’s marriage equality law, the Rev. Robert Anderson drew applause when he quoted a Bible verse suggesting that people like me are “worthy of death.” Putting aside such inflammatory rhetoric, Anderson and many opponents of marriage equality still miss the point: Marriage equality is not about “holy matrimony” or the religious sanction of a “lifestyle” (Question 6 would force no faith to recognize any marriage inconsistent with its religious traditions). It’s about civil marriage licenses and civil status under the law, which confers to people basic respect and dignity.
Moreover, marriage equality doesn’t undermine Judeo-Christian values. In fact, it advances one of the two most important teachings of the Bible: treating others the way you would want to be treated yourself. How I wish that commandment had opened people’s eyes to injustice long ago.
As a deputy legal counsel to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R-Md.), I remember sitting at a conference table in Annapolis, hearing a colleague talk about an upcoming meeting with plaintiffs challenging Maryland’s legal prohibition on same-sex marriage. “I’m just like them,” I thought to myself. But at that time it was impossible for me to imagine a time when those plaintiffs and I would be treated equally under the law.
After all, the law said I wasn’t normal or worthy of rights and respect afforded to everyone else, even incarcerated felons. So I decided to try reparative therapy, to change what I thought — what I knew — to be true. Imagine routinely hearing from a so-called expert that your mother had harmed you and that your father had failed you, despite having two loving parents who sacrificed career pursuits and much else to see you realize your dreams. Think about subjecting yourself to shock therapy — the most awful pain — as your therapist showed you images of same-sex relationships in an effort to break you of your natural feelings.
It was a disaster. Baltimore Smart CEO Magazine had named me one of Maryland’s 25 legal elite. I had administered Ehrlich’s executive clemency program, worked the halls of the General Assembly on his anti-witness intimidation reforms and defended him during the legislative inquiry into his administration’s personnel policies. The Greek Orthodox and Greek American communities had honored me with service awards and recognized me as part of a new generation of Greek American leaders. Yet the collapse of any hope of ever having my own “Big Fat Greek Wedding,” and a family that mirrored my own, made all those accomplishments almost meaningless.
I thought I had let my mother and father down. I could not change.
I broke down, shaking as I handed my mother a letter telling her about the struggle of my life. Tears, lots of them, flowed from her eyes and my own. It seemed as if the episode would not end, both of us terrified about an unknown tomorrow. “I’m so sorry,” I repeated, over and over, first to my mother — and eventually to my father, too. The truth had hurt the ones I loved the most.
There are many sources of this hurt, but one of them can be changed very quickly: the law. Across Maryland, people continue to feel the pain of state-sponsored discrimination. Consider a child who hears a lawmaker say that her caring and loving moms are somehow harming her, or how often a parent and a child struggle to come to terms with a changed future, the way my mother and I did. Consider everyone for whom the most important relationship in their lives is treated as unworthy of legitimacy.
You cannot, in one day or even over a few years, flip a switch and create a tolerant society, or even change your own view of a dream life. That’s not how healing works. But progress is possible. A series of federal judges, both Republican- and Democratic-appointed, have acted to vindicate the American values of liberty, limited government, stable families, equal justice and religious freedom for all by striking down the Defense of Marriage Act. By approving Question 6, Maryland voters can do the same.
The Rev. Anderson and other opponents of marriage equality talk a lot about “holy matrimony,” about religious liberty and some alleged “agenda” that they perceive as being forced upon God-loving people. But Question 6 is not an attack on people of faith. It is an appeal to their — our — best core belief.
Voting for Question 6 offers a chance for people of faith to change what can be changed — injustice and state law — so all people are treated fairly, equally and with respect, as each of us would like to be treated. It is a historic opportunity to say that, in Maryland, what you do matters more than who you are.
The writer was deputy counsel to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. from 2004 to 2007.
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