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baltimoresun.com

Marriage's legal protections ought to be available to all

2:30 PM EST, November 6, 2012

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This weekend, I happened to attend two solemn and sacred ceremonies filled with piety, words of the Lord and beautiful music. The first was a memorial for an elderly gentleman whose grieving widow was comforted by the ritual and dignity, the support of family, friends and neighbors, and knowledge that her beloved now rested with God. The second was the wedding of a young couple, starting their married lives similarly blessed and supported. The bride's ordained grandfather officiated, having them state their vows , including "till death part us" and reminding us all that according to God's holy ordinance, "What God has joined together, let no man put asunder."

These two contrasting yet linked ceremonies are beautiful and ancient rituals which, as powerful and sincere as they are, are not legal events by themselves. Even though they are performed under God's laws, Maryland requires that a legal document be signed — a death certificate, a marriage license. The state also requires we register the birth of a child, obtain a driver's license to drive, sign a contract to buy a property, or in the event that a marriage fails, allows us to obtain a divorce. These are all legal proceedings that structure, strengthen and maintain our society.

Does the legal marriage contract diminish the faithfulness or solemnity of a religious wedding? Not at all. The signed marriage contract legally provides a couple rights of inheritance, their children's guardianship, property ownership and social recognition. If, by fault or need, they later obtain a divorce, it is the legal contract with the state that also governs and protects that decision. Even though those sacred vows were made, the divorce will be granted because it is the legal document that prevails.

Most of us no longer live in a society where marriages are arranged as a commercial enterprise, and we freely choose whom we love and marry. Why then are gay and lesbian couples who are no less committed to each other than that young couple mentioned, not allowed to register their union legally, to protect their property, children or end of life choices? Does it diminish my marriage, or make my children unlikely to marry for love because I have a gay brother-in-law or lesbian neighbors? Of course not, unless my children (or yours) happen to be gay and this state does not pass this law of fundamental rights. Voting for Question 6 is the respectful way to treat others as we wish to be treated.

Jo Marvan, Towson