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Testimony heard on marriage bill

March 02, 2007|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

ANNAPOLIS - Rather than waiting for an appellate court decision on Maryland's same-sex marriage ban, some lawmakers are pursuing a restriction in the state constitution.

A bill to amend the constitution was heard Thursday as part of a marathon session in a state Senate committee. Many waited more than six hours to testify.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Larry E. Haines, R-Carroll/Baltimore County, calls for the constitution to say "Only a marriage between a man and a woman is a valid marriage in this state."

Two Republican senators representing Washington County - Alex X. Mooney and George C. Edwards - are among the co-sponsors.

Advocates said they're trying to protect marriage's sanctity, a cause supported by the Bible.

Critics framed the debate as a civil rights struggle, a chance for same-sex couples with stable families to get equal treatment.

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A decision by the state's highest court on a challenge to the state's prohibition of same-sex marriage is expected soon. The case went to the Maryland Court of Appeals after Baltimore Circuit Judge M. Brooke Murdock ruled in January 2006 that the ban was unconstitutional.

Nine same-sex couples are plaintiffs, along with Hagerstown resident John Lestitian, whose male partner of 13 years died in 2003.

Lestitian has said his lack of standing as a spouse in Maryland caused problems.

At least three-fifths of each house of the General Assembly must approve a constitutional amendment for it to pass. It then would go to a public vote.

One bill co-sponsor, Sen. Janet Greenip, R-Anne Arundel, said scientific research shows that children are more likely to have a range of problems if they don't have a mother or a father.

"It's the most fundamental human relationship on the face of the Earth," testified Robert P. Duckworth, Anne Arundel County's circuit court clerk.

Some urged the committee to act instead of waiting for a court decision.

Sen. Bryan W. Simonaire, R-Anne Arundel, another co-sponsor, said he's worried that allowing same-sex marriages could lead to lessons about homosexuality in school.

Simonaire verbally sparred with the Rev. Andrew Foster Connors of Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, who spoke against the amendment.

Connors explained his belief as "the equality of all souls before God," which Simonaire said could be a rationale for protecting, for example, polygamists.

Lisa Polyak, a plaintiff in the same-sex marriage lawsuit, said anti-gay rhetoric incites attacks on homosexuals, including physical assaults.

"Those who claim that they just want to protect marriage do it by appealing to the worst aspects of human nature ...," she said.

On the Web at http://mlis.state.md.us/2007rs/billfile/sb0564.htm

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