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News Opinion Editorial

For Question 6

The case for Question 6, which would affirm Maryland's law authorizing same-sex marriage, is simple. It upholds the principle that the law should treat everyone the same. Marriage is both a religious and a civil institution. Churches, synagogues and mosques have always set their own rules about which marriages they recognize, and this law does not change that fact. What it does is to ensure that no Marylander faces discrimination under the law when it comes to one of the state's fundamental institutions.

Opponents of the measure have sought to confuse the issue by warning of unintended consequences of marriage equality. They claim that those who, for religious reasons, oppose same-sex unions will be persecuted. That children will be taught about same-sex marriage in school against their parents' will. That it will somehow rob children of the best possible upbringing.

Those are no more than scare tactics.

The prime example opponents of gay marriage have raised to back up their claim of persecution is Gallaudet University's chief diversity officer, Angela McCaskill, who was suspended with pay after school officials learned she had signed the petition to put Question 6 on the ballot. The gay rights community in Maryland, from the governor on down, has urged that she be reinstated, and Ms. McCaskill's attorney has said she wants the Maryland Marriage Alliance to stop using her in its ads.

The Question 6 opposition has alluded in its advertising to three other isolated and spurious examples of supposed persecution: a high school guidance counselor in Maine who was subject to a complaint after he spoke out against gay marriage; a Canadian sportscaster who was fired shortly after sending an anti-gay-marriage tweet; and the owners of a Vermont inn who were sued after a lesbian couple was told they could not have a wedding reception there. The complaint against the guidance counselor was dismissed; the sportscaster's former employer says his firing had nothing to do with his tweet (the matter is currently tied up in mediation); and the Vermont innkeepers were sued under that state's law prohibiting discrimination in public accommodations, which has nothing to do with its gay marriage law. Maryland has had such a law for a decade and will continue to no matter what happens to Question 6.

The latest ad from the marriage alliance suggests that if Question 6 passes, gay marriage will be taught in Maryland elementary schools. The claim is bolstered by a pair of parents from Massachusetts who say that after that state approved gay marriage, "local schools taught it to children in the second grade." They say the courts ruled that parents could not take their children out of class or even be informed when the instruction was taking place.

This has been a common tactic by gay marriage opponents in other states, but it is also unfounded. Politifact, the fact-checking organization, examined a similar claim after it was made in the context of a gay marriage debate in Rhode Island. It found that the parents featured in the Maryland ad and two others sued after one teacher read one book dealing with gay marriage to her class one time, and because their school's library stocked two other books that depicted various family structures, including same-sex families. Politifact found that Massachusetts schools have a policy that encourages instruction related to diversity, including diversity of family structure. (In fact, that requirement predated the legalization of gay marriage in Massachusetts by four years.) However, Politifact found no other instances of gay marriage being part of classroom discussion for young children nor any evidence that the state includes it in its curriculum.

Moreover, Maryland, like Massachusetts, leaves decisions about curriculum up to local superintendents and school boards. Nothing in Maryland's gay marriage law deals with what should or should not be taught in schools.

As for Maryland's children, this law only improves their welfare. Thousands of Maryland children are being raised by same-sex parents in this state already. Allowing their parents the chance to marry strengthens their families and provides them with crucial protections under the law. More fundamentally, it recognizes that their families are equal to everyone else's.

There is one other important thing Marylanders should consider when they decide how to vote on Question 6. A recent Court of Appeals decision held that Maryland's practice of recognizing legal marriages from other states, even if they do not conform to Maryland's laws on marriage, extends to same-sex unions. That is to say, Maryland law will recognize same-sex marriages no matter what happens to Question 6. The difference is, if Question 6 fails, those marriages will be performed in New York, Vermont, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Iowa or, more likely, Washington, D.C.

If that happens, Maryland will lose more than the money those couples would have spent here on cakes, photographers, caterers and florists. Some couples, no doubt, will return to Maryland to settle down, but others will surely decide to stay someplace where the law fully recognizes their value as members of the community.

Nothing short of marriage equality will accomplish that. Civil unions and domestic partnerships in some states have sought to afford gay families the same packages of rights and benefits as married couples — a difficult and usually incomplete task, given the number of laws that reference marriage in one way or another. But that approach creates two kinds of marriage — one for straight people and one for gay people — and that inevitably relegates same-sex couples to second-class citizenship.

Maryland's marriage equality law protects the rights of religious institutions to set their own doctrine and practices, but it also affirms the principle that the state's civil laws should not foster discrimination. Everyone deserves to be treated equally under the law, and for that reason, we urge voters to support Question 6.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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