Advocates for both sides pack gay marriage hearing

ANNAPOLIS — Activists on either side of the gay marriage debate filled a House of Delegates committee hearing Friday, arguing about civil rights and religious liberties.

With debate expected to stretch into the evening, hundreds settled in for the hearing on a set of marriage-related bills, including a proposal from Gov. Martin O’Malley to legalize same-sex unions and another plan that would create a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between one man and one woman.

The state Senate’s Judicial Proceedings Committee heard arguments on the proposal last week, but the battle for passage lies in the House where last year lawmakers rescinded their initial support, citing concerns about religious and family values.

Del. Emmett Burns, D-Baltimore County, told committee members that childhood events helped him develop his opinion that gay sexual relationships, and therefore same-sex marriages, are wrong.

The delegate said at ages 12 and 13 he was solicited by two different men, which made him feel uncomfortable. He said he knew the behavior they were asking him to perform “wasn’t natural.”

Burns, 71, said he had never spoken about the incidents, but felt the committee hearing was an appropriate place to “out” his secret.

Del. Don Dwyer, R-Anne Arundel, argued in favor of his legislation that would let voters decide on a constitutional amendment saying marriage can only be between one man and one woman.

Dwyer’s proposal is not expected to gain traction.

Earlier this week Washington became the seventh state to legalize same-sex marriage, and a federal court overturned a California ban on same-sex marriages.

A New Jersey Republican lawmaker said Thursday he has submitted a proposal for a ballot question that would ask New Jersey voters to approve gay marriage in November. New Jersey’s Legislature would have to decide whether to put a gay-marriage question on the ballot.

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