The General Assembly is poised to vote on a bill that would afford the legal and financial protection of marriage to committed same-sex partners. Support for this measure has been rising across the board in recent years. An increasing number of leading conservatives, Dick Cheney, Laura Bush, and Ted Olson to name a few, support gay marriage.
GOProud, an organization representing conservative gays, lesbians, transgendered people, and a group that supports gay marriage, is an affiliate at the nation’s largest annual gathering of conservatives — the Conservative Political Action Conference. Here in Maryland, the former leader of the Republicans in the State Senate, Sen. Allan Kittleman (R-Howard) has announced his support for the proposed legislation.
While it appears the tide is turning — polls show that people under 30 overwhelmingly support marriage equality — many continue to oppose same-sex marriage. While we earnestly respect their traditional views, frequently based on deeply held moral or religious convictions, we think that other factors outweigh them.
The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness, and we feel that two human beings of the same sex who are deeply in love deserve the same right to happiness as heterosexual couples. We acknowledge the fears of some that permitting marriage equality will undermine the heterosexual family, but as more and more citizens are exposed to caring and deeply devoted homosexual couples living nearby, we have not heard any reports that heterosexual families living in the same neighborhoods have been damaged in any way.
A civil right
Just as freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of religion are essential rights, so too is the freedom to form loving relationships — and to have those relationships recognized and protected by the state. Indeed, marriage is one of the “basic civil rights of man,” fundamental to our very existence and survival.
The cornerstone of America’s civil rights movement — be it racial or gender equality — is the fight to guarantee rights and protections to persons and groups to whom such protections were previously denied. We feel that genetics at least plays a role in determining sexual preferences and that it is just as wrong to deny a person the right to marry the person that he or she loves as a result of his genetic makeup as it would be to deny a person essential rights based on the person’s eye shape, skin color or sex.
Another strong argument in favor of the proposed legislation is that same-sex marriages are currently legal in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Washington, D.C. Maryland recognizes marriages that are performed in those jurisdictions. There are ever-increasing numbers of Maryland citizens of the same sex who are getting married in other jurisdictions, returning to Maryland and enjoying all of the rights of people who were married in Maryland. The availability of legal marriages in other states is only going to increase in the years to come. Under the circumstances, it only makes sense to permit such marriages to take place here in Maryland.
Woefully inadequate substitute
Many opposed to marriage equality assert that marriage is reserved to the non-secular. Faced with growing public pressure and legal imperative to address marriage equality, the bone of conferring “civil or domestic partnership” status is offered as a solution, but in our view, it is not a realistic solution.
In the first place, most couples want to be “married,” not consigned to some exotic classification, and the ability to get married is available in nearby Washington, D.C.
Second, the term “domestic partnership” is unknown in the law, and in order to ensure that domestic partners would have the same rights and privileges as married persons, extensive legislation would be necessary, which would undoubtedly trigger extensive litigation.
Complicated issues would ensue: Would a corporation headquartered in Texas have to recognize the ‘domestic partnership’ status conferred by Maryland? Are domestic partnerships portable across state lines?
Or, consider the possibility that a child of two “domestic partners” on vacation in Delaware becomes dangerously ill. The parents call an ambulance and rush to the hospital to be with their child. By the time they arrive the child is diagnosed with appendicitis and is being prepped for surgery. Because the parents are not legally married in the eyes of the Delaware authorities, could they be denied access to the emergency room?
Other examples are legion. The point is that “marriage” is universally understood and recognized in all states, indeed, to our knowledge, in all countries in the world, while “domestic partnership” is a relationship that the laws of most states and most countries do not currently recognize. Thus, consigning couples to the status of “domestic partners” means subjecting them to unquantifiable risks that other happily married couples do not face.
While we understand and respect the sensitive nature of this issue to the opponents of the proposed legislation, we feel that the times have changed, our understanding of the origins of sexual orientation has changed, and public opinion is shifting by the day. It is time for Maryland to afford equal rights and equal protections to all its citizens. It is time for Maryland to pass the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act of 2011.
Editorial Advisory Board member Frederic N. Smalkin did not participate in this opinion.