Rabbi John Franken

Rabbi John Franken of Bolton Street Synagogue and other members of the congregation have been phoning and canvassing door to door to promote support for Question 6 for marriage equality. They say they are mandated by the Torah to treat others as they wish to be treated. Here, Franken leads an outdoor service in July for congregants. (File photo / July 12, 2012)

Sharon Krevor-Weisbaum, a supporter of marriage equality in Maryland, used her cell phone to call a registered voter in Baltimore County on Oct. 10.

Krevor-Weisbaum introduced herself to the woman who answered, and said she was calling about Question 6 on the November ballot, the Civil Marriage Protection Act.

Suddenly, Krevor-Weisbaum stopped, leaned back in her chair at Bolton Street Synagogue and sighed in frustration, "Aaahhh! She hung up on me."

Such was the life of a phone bank volunteer at the synagogue, which is making its own strong push to get out the vote in favor of the initiative.


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Led by interim Rabbi John Franken, about 10 congregants, from high school freshmen to senior citizens, turned out to join the phone bank effort in a meeting room at the synagogue, 212 W. Cold Spring Lane. Training them was Morgan Sills, a field coordinator for the group Marylanders for Marriage Equality, based in Canton and Silver Spring, which is leading the effort to pass Question 6.

They did it again Oct. 17, and plan to do door-to-door canvassing at the end of October.

Franken, wearing a T-shirt that read "Vote for Question 6, marriage equality and fairness," explained that supporting the ballot question is important to Jews, because the Torah teaches them to love their neighbors as they love themselves and to "treat people as you would want to be treated."

"Sexuality is not a choice," Franken said. "Everybody has a right to be with whom they love."

Each volunteer received the same T-shirt for free. And before they got started, Franken gave a blessing to "repair the world."

Both sides ringing up support

Recent polls including one by The Baltimore Sun show support for the initiative hovering between 49 and 54 percent, said Josh Levin, campaign manager for Marylanders for Marriage Equality. But, Levin and Jodi Kelber-Kaye, a Bolton Street Synagogue congregant who is helping to lead the synagogue's effort, both said that opponents of Question 6, including the National Organization for Marriage and Maryland Marriage Alliance, are also active, and have churches doing phone banks, too.

"The Maryland group certainly has been just as active as we are," Levin said.

Also active is the Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore, which opposes the ballot initiative and is trying to get the word out through its churches, including St. Thomas Aquinas in Hampden, Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Homeland and Shrine of the Sacred Heart in Mount Washington.

"We've been providing resources to our members to prepare their consciences for voting and remind them of what the church teaches," said Sean Caine, a spokesman for the archdiocese.

In a letter set to churches last week, Archbishop William Lori defended the church's position and urged Catholics to vote against Question 6, arguing that marriage between a man an a woman is the only way to procreate and that "redefining" marriage would have "long-term consequences" for children and their families.

Clergy are free to use the letter as they wish, Caine said. "It's up to them as to how they share it," he said.

St. Thomas Aquinas is not doing anything special, such as phone banking, church officials said. The Rev. William Au at Shrine of the Sacred Heart could not be reached for comment.

Cathedral of Mary Our Queen on Nov. 3 will have a guest speaker, the Rev. Gerry Francik, of St. Mark's Parish in Fallston, who will discuss the marriage referendum in the context of Catholicism as being "countercultural."

The Catholic Church's stance against same-sex marriage is seen by many people as running counter to changing mores, Caine conceded. But he said the opposition is "for the common good," because, "The family is the bedrock of society."

The issue is personal for Kelber-Kaye, 48, of Bolton Hill, who joined Bolton Street Synagogue in 2004. Kelber-Kaye, associate director of the Honors College at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, was one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit in 2004, challenging a state ban on same-sex marriages. The Maryland Court of Appeals in 2007 ruled in a 4-3 vote that the ban was constitutional.

"I'm extraordinarily hopeful" that Question 6 will pass, Kelber-Kaye said.

The issue is also personal for the roughly 10 percent of 200 households in the congregation that have at least one gay family member, Franken said.

The phone bank volunteers were gung ho as they started.

"I am not afraid," said congregant Gayle Hefner, of Towson.

"This is an issue I think is important," said Caroline Kaufman, 14, of Guilford, a freshman at the Bryn Mawr School in Roland Park. "I don't understand how someone else's marriage is anybody's business.

But the phone banking effort proved to be slow-going as volunteers made calls around dinner time, working from lists of what Levin called "persuadable" voters in Baltimore County. Also, the phone banking was planned before the Baltimore Orioles made the playoffs, and an Orioles-New York Yankees game was coming on that evening.

"We didn't know that was going to happen," Kelber-Kaye said.

Many of the volunteers early on either got no answer or an answering machine, or in Krevor-Weisbaum's case, a click on the other end of the line. But Marion Ehrlich, of Roland Park, finally got a man on the line.

The man listened to Ehrlich's introduction and then she asked him whether he was for or against Question 6.

"Against," he said, which ended the conversation.

But phone bankers were undeterred and said Maryland is overdue for same sex-marriage rights.

"I really think it's time," said Krevor-Weisbaum, an attorney, who has been married for 32 years. "There are so many gay and lesbian couples that want the same rights I have."