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Same-sex marriage issue divides committee

Legislation would codify union of man, woman

By Kimberly A.C. Wilson

Sun Staff

February 26, 2004

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Measures that would reaffirm marriage in Maryland as valid only between a man and a woman sharply divided a House committee yesterday.

Hours into the 22-member Judiciary Committee's hearing, a session marked by accusations of bigotry and religious intolerance, Chairman Joseph F. Vallario Jr. acknowledged that the panel was at loggerheads over the issue of changing the state's constitution and laws that recognize marriages licensed elsewhere.

"It's very close in the committee, as you can see from the questions," Vallario said during a break. "It's very split."

The questions Vallario referred to covered the myriad facets of the institution of marriage. There were pronouncements on tradition and morality, diatribes on values and church recognition. Scholars and clerics testified about the history of weddings and their purpose: procreation.

The bills drew 83 people who signed up to speak.

The most heated exchanges skirted the bills sponsored by Del. Charles R. Boutin of Cecil and Harford counties and Del. Emmett C. Burns Jr., from Baltimore County. Boutin's proposed constitutional amendment, which voters would have to ratify, would establish only marriages between a man and a woman as valid in Maryland. Burns' bill would make same-sex marriages performed in another state or foreign country invalid here.

Burns' bill, introduced twice before in previous sessions, has taken on added relevance this year since a judicial decision in Massachusetts opened the door for same-sex marriages there and San Francisco's mayor defied his state's law to begin issuing thousands of marriage licenses to gay couples.

Should homosexual couples with valid marriage licenses obtained out of state challenge Maryland's current statute on marriage, Maryland might have to recognize gay husbands and wives even though it prohibits their marriage here, Burns' said.

"We don't want to be the dumping ground because our law doesn't specifically state that we don't recognize foreign or out of state marriages," said Burns, who is also the pastor of Rising Sun First Baptist churches in Woodlawn and Catonsville. "Consider the chaos that will result if we do not resolve this issue," said Del. Joseph C. Boteler III.

Outside the committee room, 10-year-old Justin McGuire sprawled in a corner, swapping a silver GameBoy with two friends among half a dozen kids Christine Bistany baby sat while their parents waited to address legislators.

Earlier, the boy stood behind a podium facing a room filled with reporters and, half hidden by a crop of microphones, delivered his own short statement on this issue of the moment.

"I've been over at my friends' houses who have moms and dads, and it's no different than at my house." He lives with his two moms and his sister, Maya, 10 months old.

Bistany said she hoped lawmakers took the children into consideration. "I didn't want to testify, but I'm here hoping people make good decisions," the Bowie social worker said. "I hope they see we have families, and this affects us."

The committee is expected to vote on the bills next Thursday, Vallario said.