The rush is on to beat Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler to the finish line in defining the state's legal position toward out-of-state, same-sex marriage.
Delegate Emmett Burns, Jr. (D-Baltimore), a Baptist minister and champion of equal opportunity for African-Americans is in the lead--but like the classic matchup between tortoise and hare, this race isn't over until it's over.
Twice in years past Burns has proposed legislation that if enacted would prohibit Maryland from recognizing out-of-state, same-sex marriages. Twice he has failed.
Let's hope his third time isn't a charm.
Attorney General Gansler--pro LGBT in the past--may not be moving at snail's pace while considering same-sex marriage recognition, but he's certainly been deliberate in his deliberations. He's yet to issue an opinion requested by state Senator Richard Madaleno (D-Montgomery) in May of 2009. Equality Maryland had hoped for a favorable ruling by late last summer or early fall.
Word is the AG awaits the verdict of the Prop 8 trial before weighing in with his final opinion.
So here we are again. Maryland's legislature is back in session. New Year, same old resolution as Delegate Burns sponsors his discriminatory measure for a third time in the guise of HB 90.
Synopsis of House Bill 90:
Providing that a marriage between two individuals of the same sex that is validly entered into in another state or in a foreign country is not valid in the State of Maryland; altering the definition of a "foreign marriage"; and declaring that marriages between individuals of the same sex are against the public policy of the State.
Burns has picked up the pace to defeat same-sex marriage recognition in Maryland since neighboring Washington DC voted to legalize same-sex marriage in December.
HB 90 is scheduled to be heard by the House Judicial Committee today in Annapolis. To a social conservative like Delegate Burns there hasn't been a more clear and present moral danger than gay and lesbian newlyweds flooding across the border from the District and points due North.
Delegate Burns offered this assessment during an interview Tuesday on WYMR's Maryland Morning with Sheilah Kast.
"You know I guess it's just like what happened up in Massachusetts. A Republican never would have won up there had it not been for the perceived thoughts of what is happening in the country. It wasn't passed--my bill in the past, because the urgency was not there, but the urgency is here now. It's right at our doorstep. And Maryland wouldn't be---the Attorney General wouldn't be thinking about making a ruling either way if it wasn't close to us."
I prefer to take heed of the inspired words of Chief Justice Margaret Marshall of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. Writing for the majority opinion in Goodridge et al. v. Department of Public Health, a ruling which paved the way to legalize same-sex marriage in that state, she underscored several universal truths.
Among them the concept that marriage is a social institution whose protections, benefits and obligations should not be denied to individuals of the same sex who wish to be married. The enlightened opinion of the Massachusetts Supreme Court justices in 2003 "affirmed the dignity and equality of all individuals, forbidding the creation of second class citizens."
The court rejected the claim that the primary purpose of marriage is procreation and instead "it is the exclusive and permanent commitment of the marriage partners to one another, not the begetting of children, that is the sine qua non of marriage."
The landmark Massachusetts appellate court case defined civil marriage to mean "the voluntary union of two persons as spouses to the exclusion of all others." In the opinion of the ruling majority, Chief Justice Marshall wrote, "Civil marriage has long been termed a civil right."
The court concluded "the right to marry means little if it does not include the right to marry the person of one's choice..."
Maryland could learn a lot from their neighbor to the northeast.
Unfortunately, not all truths are created equal, especially in the mind of Delegate Emmett Burns.
"Same sex marriages are bad economic policy, bad social policy, bad educational policy. It's just bad policy," Burns remarked during his interview on WYPR.
According to a 2007 report by the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law & Policy at the UCLA School of Law the economics of same-sex marriage do, in fact, add up.
"Extending marriage rights to same-sex couples would result in a net gain of approximately $3.2 million each year. This net gain is attributable to savings in expenditures on means-tested public benefit programs and an increase in sales and lodging tax revenue from weddings and wedding-related tourism."
According to Lambda Legal there are over 1,400 legal rights conferred to married couples. If Delegate Burns discriminatory measure wins, lesbian and gay couples in Maryland will continue to be deprived the civil rights to which they should be entitled.
Recently, Burns was quoted in the Baltimore Sun as saying, "There is a line we out not to cross, and this is it."
Maybe he won't have to if Attorney General Gansler and an opinion recognizing out-of-state, same-sex marriage cross the finish line first.