Dee Powell

Dee Powell, a member and an administrator at Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, opposes same-sex marriage in Maryland. (Baltimore Sun photo by Algerina Perna / October 22, 2012)

Third of three articles on state ballot issues

Dee Powell's belief in the ideal of marriage survived the reality of her divorce, and now she is working to preserve the institution as solely the union of a man and a woman.

"Marriage is perfect," Powell says. "People are not."

But for Judy Gaver, what would make marriage perfect is to extend it to gay couples, such as the lesbians whose commitment ceremony she attended this summer.

"It was beautiful, with the flowers and the music and the families," Gaver said. "There was so much love, how could this be wrong? But of course, because it was Maryland, it had to be a commitment ceremony. It couldn't be a 'real' wedding."

The two women are on opposite sides of the referendum, Question 6, that on Election Day will ask voters whether same-sex marriage should be legal in Maryland.

Powell, 51, comes to her position in part from her faith — she is a member and an administrator at Hope Christian Church in Beltsville — but her belief originates in a place so deep she can't describe it.

"I have always seen marriage as between a man and a woman," Powell said in a recent interview in her apartment in Owings Mills. "I definitely believe my faith has something to do with it. But even before I became a Christian, that's how I saw marriage."

Gaver's fight for same-sex marriage began in a sense in 2001, when her eldest son, Andrew, who now calls himself Drew, came out as gay. Through the support group Parents, Family & Friends of Lesbians and Gays, or PFLAG, she has lobbied state legislators on bills such as extending the right of hospital visitation to same-sex couples and, most recently, marriage equality for all.

"Separate but equal," Gaver, 58, said, "has never worked."

Maryland legislators, after several years of addressing the issue, approved same-sex marriage this year, and it was signed into law by Gov. Martin O'Malley. But opponents gathered more than 100,000 signatures on a petition, successfully putting the issue up for referendum on the Nov. 6 ballot. Voters in three other states also will consider same-sex marriage.

For many, it is a highly personal issue, tied up in one's own family and experiences.

'Fighting for the family'

Powell was born to an unmarried interracial couple — her mother is black, and her biological father, who is not a part of her life, is white. Powell said that at age 6 she became a foster child because her mother was too young to take care of her. She lived with her godparents in West Baltimore but kept in touch with her mother.

During her childhood, her mother's partners were mostly women, Powell said. She knew that was outside the norm, but didn't fault it. (Powell said her mother did not want to be interviewed for this article.)

"I love my mom. We naturally want people we love to be happy, and I felt like my mom was happy," she said. "I always felt it was different, but I was accepting of it. She wasn't in a horrible relationship. I saw my mother with different partners, I kind of accepted that as her lifestyle."

And yet, Powell said, she occasionally longed for the conventional.

"I must say, like any other normal child, I would dream: I'd wish I could be with my natural mom and my natural dad," she said. "I would think, maybe I will turn the corner, and there they would be."

At age 21, she married a fellow churchgoer, and they went on to have three sons. But the marriage ended in divorce in 2007, something that even now fills her with regret.

"It was very devastating for me. I love my family, I believe in fighting for the family," she said. "There are even times today I wish I could have fought harder."