People who were paying attention in history class when the teacher got to "civil rights movement" must be astonished that an African-American minister with gray hair — a man who was state director of the NAACP in his native Mississippi and regional director of the organization in Maryland — could not only oppose extending equal rights to gay couples but advocate quashing the First Amendment rights of a pro football player.
But that's how it goes in the irrational and fear-driven world of the Rev. Emmett C. Burns Jr., a member of the House of Delegates, and many other people who have a problem with homosexuality.
By now, Burns, a Baltimore County Democrat and one of the most vocal opponents of same-sex marriage in the General Assembly, has backed off his call for the owner of the Baltimore Ravens to muzzle Brendon Ayanbadejo. The Ravens linebacker has publicly supported the campaign to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.
"Upon reflection, he has his First Amendment rights," Burns told Baltimore Sun reporter Annie Linskey on Sunday. "And I have my First Amendment rights. … Each of us has the right to speak our opinions."
It's nice to hear that Burns, "upon reflection," sees that freedom of speech flows from the Constitution. Unfortunately, the minister hasn't been able to overcome his prejudices when it comes to extending equal treatment under the law to gays and lesbians. And he rejects comparisons of the movement to do that with the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
"I get really bent out of shape when you talk about gay and lesbian rights as a civil rights issue," he once said. "Whites can hide their gayness; I cannot hide my blackness."
Why should anyone have to hide anything about themselves in a free country?
It's all irrational. There are no sound arguments against granting same-sex couples the right to be married under Maryland law. And ministers like Burns are just grandstanding for their flocks because they know they are exempt from having to perform marriage ceremonies for gay couples.
Here are the words from the statute: "An official of a religious order or body authorized by the rules and customs of that order or body to perform a marriage ceremony may not be required to solemnize or officiate any particular marriage or religious rite of any marriage in violation of the right to free exercise of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and by the Maryland Constitution and Maryland Declaration of Rights."
So, given that important exemption, the only opposition must be based on irrational fears.
I got a taste of this the other day on my radio show on WYPR, when I interviewed another member of the House of Delegates, the Republican freshman from Washington County, Neil Parrott.
He's the tea party organizer who created a website to help opponents of same-sex marriage petition its legalization to referendum. So, thanks to Parrott's innovation and drive, Maryland voters will face the question on the November ballot. The state's heterosexual majority will be asked to vote on the rights of its homosexual minority, and it will be a historic thing if the majority approves same-sex marriage.
After asking Parrott to detail his Internet innovation for the successful petition, I turned to his personal opposition to same-sex marriage — what difference will it make in his life? — and that's where things got really interesting and weird.
That's where the word "indoctrination" came up — that is, if we extend the rights of homosexuals, we will find ourselves having to support the teaching of homosexuality in our public schools. Children will have to be taught that homosexuality is a natural or normal state, Parrott said, making the same rhetorical leap and echoing the same fears expressed by another Maryland legislator I had interviewed on this subject, Del. Don Dwyer of Anne Arundel County.
Like Dwyer, Parrott suggested something sinister, as if teachers would now be required to present homosexuality in their classes as a "lifestyle choice" that students could consider. (This must explain, in part, why Parrott's three children are home-schooled.)
As I said, you hear a lot of weird stuff when you get into the arguments against same-sex marriage, and I thought I had heard everything until Parrott took up for "wedding DJs."
I am pretty sure this is what he said: People who provide music for wedding receptions might be sued by gay couples if they refuse their business.
"They may or may not be comfortable in that environment," Parrott said of wedding DJs, "and yet they are going to be able to be successfully sued if they are doing wedding DJing."
As I said, there isn't much logic here.
In fact, upon reflection, I'll bet my velvet cummerbund that most wedding DJ are supporting the Maryland same-sex marriage law. It will be good for business.