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Havre de Grace councilman speaks up for same sex marriage law

Of the 14 questions that will be on Harford County's general election ballot next month, one is especially personal for Havre de Grace Councilman Joe Smith.

Smith, who is openly gay, is one of many people who cannot marry their partners in Maryland, and he said he plans to use an upcoming council meeting to discuss his support for the measure that would allow same-sex marriage, as well as some other ballot questions.

The city council's next scheduled meetings are this Monday, Oct. 15, and Monday, Nov. 5, the day before Election Day.

"It should come as no surprise that I support a 'Yes' vote on Question 6," Smith said last week. "My partner and I are hoping to celebrate our 25th year together in 2013 by actually getting married in Maryland."

The statewide ballot question would "establish that Maryland's civil marriage laws allow gay and lesbian couples to obtain a civil marriage license, provided they are not otherwise prohibited from marrying; protects clergy from having to perform any particular marriage ceremony in violation of their religious beliefs; affirms that each religious faith has exclusive control over its own theological doctrine regarding who may marry within that faith; and provides that religious organizations and certain related entities are not required to provide goods, services or benefits to an individual related to the celebration or promotion of marriage in violation of their religious beliefs."

Smith, a Bulle Rock resident who just opened a downtown business that caters to the wedding market, said the legislation will have a direct effect on people like him and his partner.

"It affects us personally," he said. "Beyond wanting societal recognition of our commitment, there are legal and economic impacts related to property and taxes that affect us negatively. This legislation will correct that in many ways."

Smith said he sees many people in the area leaning toward supporting same-sex marriage.

"Does everyone agree on the marriage issue? There's probably more that agree than not," he said. "I think for the most part, there's a lot of support here."

Smith moved to Havre de Grace in 2006 and grew up in Bay City, Mich. Michigan does not allow same-sex marriage.

"I don't think anyone can blame me for making a statement as an elected official," he continued. "I know the council tries to stay away from partisan issues, but I don't really see this as a partisan issue. I see it as a political issue that affects me personally."

Smith could be Harford's only openly gay elected official. But he said that fact has been a non-issue since he was elected this spring.

"My orientation, my relationship, wasn't really an issue in my recent campaign and I have heard from many of my colleagues that they wouldn't make it an issue," he said.

But he also knows he's not alone.

"Just in Havre de Grace, we know of probably a dozen or more same-sex couples that live here. Some of them have already gotten married outside of the state and others are looking forward to doing so," he said.

"It's not just us. There are many others," he noted.

Smith said the approval of same-sex marriage in other states shows people that it can be a positive step.

"A case can be made that it's a civil right but it's also an issue that is about love and commitment," he said. "Other states have had similar legislation pass and the world hasn't collapsed or things haven't gone horribly wrong in those jurisdictions."

"Opponents of Question 6 are basing their campaign on fear, not reality," he continued. "The definition of traditional marriage has changed over the years. Past definitions of 'traditional' marriage have treated women as property and, until just a few decades ago, prevented interracial marriages."

Smith said he is "definitely optimistic" about Marylanders being supportive of the bill.

"The polls show the numbers have changed in our favor," he said. "Maryland courts now recognize same-sex marriages performed out of state, as demonstrated by a divorce decree issued to a same-sex couple earlier this year."

"I think overall the tide has turned and the trend is looking overall in terms of acceptance," he said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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