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Shank, Young on opposite sides of marriage debate

February 24, 2011|By ANDREW SCHOTZ | andrews@herald-mail.com

For two Washington County state senators, a same-sex marriage bill was either a fundamental violation of longstanding tradition or an opportunity to end discrimination.

Upon joining the Washington County delegation this year, Sen. Ronald N. Young, D-Frederick/Washington, became the only member to support same-sex marriage.

In his first year as a state senator after three terms as a delegate, Christopher B. Shank maintained his firm belief that marriage should be between one man and one woman, as Maryland law currently reads.

Both had a chance to speak on the Senate floor Thursday during debate over the bill, which, if passed by the House and signed by the governor, would make Maryland the sixth state to let same-sex couples marry.

The Senate passed the bill 25-21 Thursday. A House committee is scheduled to hear the bill today.

Shank and Sen. George C. Edwards, R-Garrett/Allegany/Washington, were opposed to the measure. Young, a co-sponsor of the bill, was in favor.

During his floor speech, Shank focused on what he saw as shortcomings of the proposal.

He said the bill wasn't amended enough to safeguard the religious freedom of dissenters, including small-business people who don't want to cater to same-sex celebrations and faith-based social service agencies.

Under the bill, "they must recognize and participate in something which their faith traditions tell them that is not acceptable to do," Shank said.

Although a sponsor of the bill has argued that it only applies to marriage, Shank said it likely will affect grants, schools, tax-exempt status, government contracts and more.

"We are moving too fast," he said, noting that other states have moved to civil unions as an intermediate step before approving same-sex marriage.

During his floor speech, Young, a former alderman and mayor in Frederick, likened the bill to the civil rights movement.

He said that in 1969, after he won his first election, he and the president of the NAACP were thrown out of a private club and threatened with jail. Young said he was told he'd never win another election.

"I have heard some of these same arguments 40 years ago," he said. "I sat in the movie theater when blacks had to sit in the balcony. I went into restaurants where they weren't allowed to go in. There are some real similarities."

"My mother always taught me that I should treat everybody equally, and that we should treat everybody fairly," he said.

Now, like then, he is facing the threat of losing his next election, Young said.

"I haven't even decided if I'm going to run in four years," he said. "I may. But if I lose an election over this vote, so what. It's what's right."

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