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Maryland activists applaud marriage equality bill

by Matthew E. Pilecki
Contributor
Thursday Jan 27, 2011
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When marriage equality came to the District of Columbia last year, same-sex couples from surrounding states flooded the steps of courthouses to exchange vows. Equality Maryland, however, is hoping to detour traffic to the Old Line State.

Equality Maryland held a press conference on Tuesday, Jan. 25, to announce the introduction of the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act in both the House and Senate. While ending the exclusion of same-sex couples from civil marriage, the bill also mandates religious institutions would have the right to refrain from performing gay unions. Lisa Polyak, vice president of Equality Maryland’s Board of Directors, told EDGE it is no secret LGBT Marylanders continue to go the District by the busloads to tie the knot.

"I think it was educational from the standpoint that Maryland and D.C. are so close in many ways," she said. "The comings and goings just made it possible for people to see with their own eyes that allowing same sex couples to marry-nothing bad happened as a result of that. Nothing changed, none of the things that people were worried about that might happen, happened. Except that families in Maryland got legal protections that they should have been able to get from their home state. I think our legislators are now at the point where they would like those celebrations to take place in the state."

The bill has 59 co-sponsors in the House and 18 in the Senate-nearly double the amount in 2010.

To rally support for the bill, Equality Maryland recruited the Maryland Black Family Alliance, the NAACP and several religious institutions. Polyak said faith-based communities and people of color play a critical role in dispersing the message of marriage equality to straight allies.

"We realized that we’re not just trying to achieve marriage equality for any one segment," said Polyak. "There’s a misperception that religious communities are monolithic in their belief about equal rights for LGBT citizens. We know that some communities don’t believe there should be equal treatment under the law, but we know that there are many religious communities, denominations, and clergy members that do believe same-sex couples should have the right to be married. They would like this time to solemnize or perform a blessing on those couples in their denominations, in their houses of worship, and they’re not allowed to."

On the other side of the Mason-Dixon Line, Pennsylvania Rep. Daryl Metcalfe introduced a bill that would bar marriage for gays and lesbians in the Keystone State. David Catanese of Politico told EDGE any type of social reform legislation, whether pro or anti-LGBT, would likely lack support during troubled economic times. Polyak believes, however, the recession is as an ideal time to enact marriage for same-sex couples.

"I would think that it’s a complimentary type of public policy to pursue in difficult economic times," she said. "That’s the great thing about civil marriage-for better or worse, the government has invested the vehicle of civil marriage with all of these legal and fiscal prerogatives so that families can take care of themselves. So that the burden of taking care of that family unit doesn’t fall on the community or the government. It seems to me in bad economic times, you would want more people to have the tools to take care of themselves and civil marriage provides those prerogatives."

Polyak added extending rights to LGBT citizens at the local and state level quells doubt among the general public and furthers the cause at the federal level. And she remains incredulous towards cynics who argue nuptials for same-sex couples threaten traditional marriage.

"I have to say that to this day I don’t understand what people mean when they say the institution of marriage will be harmed or changed if same-sex couples are allowed to be married," she said. "When I ask for an example of what that means, I’ve never been able to get one. When people say those things, truthfully, I don’t know what they mean. Although they assert it as if it had the force of data and legitimacy behind it-if there is no tangible evidence behind them, frankly, I wish people would stop saying it because to me it seems like it’s just not true."

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