In fact, Republican Sen. Allan H. Kittleman — who had endorsed civil unions as recently as a month ago — said such a step would consign gay couples to less than equal status.
“I was trying to do what I thought was right” by supporting a civil-union compromise earlier, he told the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.
“I went through a transformation,” said Kittleman, R-Carroll and Howard, whose views cost him his post as Senate Minority Leader. Only same-sex marriage would guarantee “equal rights for everyone,” he said.
Kittleman’s explanation set the tone for the committee hearing on Senate Bill 116, a crowded event at which more than 140 people signed up to testify.
The bill would remove Maryland’s statutory limitation on marriage to the union of a man and a woman.
Its opponents were just as adamant as Kittleman, saying Maryland should not abandon the traditional definition of marriage as it helps achieve the state’s compelling goal of promoting the family unit of mother, father and child.
“The legislation before you is inconsistent with the purposes of Maryland’s marriage laws,” Austin R. Nimocks, senior legal counsel of the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Alliance Defense Fund, told the committee. “Men and women still comprise the two great halves of humanity.”
The intense debate before them was reflected in the comments of senators on the committee.
Sen. Nancy Jacobs, R-Cecil and Harford, an opponent of same-sex marriage, asked if the legislation would permit businesses — such as bakers of wedding cakes — to refuse to cater same-sex weddings if such unions deeply offend their religious beliefs.
But Sen. Jamin B. “Jamie” Raskin, a sponsor of the bill, said same-sex marriages will help Maryland businesses. He said shops in his Takoma Park district are now losing potential revenue as gay couples in the city spend their wedding dollars in neighboring Washington, D.C., where same-sex marriages are legally performed.
“That a lot of business that’s flowing into the District,” said Raskin, D-Montgomery.
In the House of Delegates, leaders have said they will not consider same-sex legislation until the Senate passes a bill.
“We know it will be contentious in the Senate and if a bill passes we’ll take it up in that form,” said House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel.
Legislation to permit same-sex marriage died in committee when it was last introduced two years ago. The bill now before the Senate, SB 116, is co-sponsored by a six of the Judicial Proceedings Committee’s 11 current members, making it very likely to be approved by the panel and voted on by the full Senate this session.
Sen. Robert J. Garagiola, the measure’s chief sponsor, is not a member of the committee but testified at the hearing.
“The piecemeal approach is the wrong way to go,” said Garagiola, D-Montgomery. “I view it as a civil rights issue. I view it as an equal rights issue whose time has come.”
Not a partnership
Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., D-Montgomery, said he has a personal interest in the passage of the measure he is co-sponsoring. At a Maryland church wedding 10 years ago, he married his “partner” Mark but the marriage is not recognized by the state.
“That term” — partner — “cheapens our relationship,” Madaleno told the committee.
“It makes it sound like we are simply in business together,” added the senator, who does not sit on the committee. “It is a badge of dishonor I must wear every day whenever I introduce Mark to anyone or even talk about him to someone who does not know us, because my state refuses to grant us civil marriage. I would never ask any of you to relegate your wives or husbands to being only your ‘partners.’”
But Derek McCoy, president of the Association of Maryland Families, told the Senate panel to keep Maryland’s current law.
“Your concerns should not be on pandering to the political mood of the day,” he said. “Marriage is between a man and a woman.”
Last February, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler kept the same-sex marriage debate brewing when he issued an opinion endorsing the view that Maryland should recognize as married same-sex Maryland couples who are legally wed in other states.
Gansler submitted written testimony to the Senate committee in support of the pending legislation.
“Senate bill 116 promotes equality in the exercise of the right to marry,” Gansler wrote. “This equalization of the marriage right is long overdue.”
In addition to Washington, D.C., same-sex marriages are legally performed in Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont.
Committee Chairman Sen. Brian E. Frosh, D-Montgomery, a sponsor of the bill, did not indicate when the panel will vote on the legislation.
Nick Sohr of The Daily Record and David Saleh Rauf of Capital News Service contributed to this report.