A number of Harford County churches and religious leaders are leading the local fight to revoke Maryland's new same-sex marriage law before it can go into effect.
Several Harford churches are supporting the Maryland Marriage Alliance coalition in a statewide petition drive challenging the law passed by the Maryland General Assembly earlier this year.
That law does not take effect until January 2013, and its opponents must get at least 56,000 signatures to put the issue on the ballot in November.
"That is a slam dunk," Southern Harford Del. Glen Glass predicted, noting the drive already has more than 30,000 signatures statewide. He expects it will ultimately get more than 75,000.
"The marriage drive is doing really, really well," Glass said Tuesday. "[The Alliance leaders] are spending a lot of money and they are going church to church, and getting tons of signatures."
Oak Grove Baptist Church, on Churchville Road in Bel Air, has been the local distribution point for the petition drive and the church is leading a petition sign-up effort through Saturday at the Motor Vehicle Administration location in Bel Air.
The church's marquee at Churchville and Thomas Run roads has been advertising that drive.
The church has already reached the goal of 6,446 signatures set for Harford County by the Alliance, organizer LaVerne Cash said Monday.
The petitioners must get at least a third of the required signatures by the end of May and the remainder by the end of June, she said.
For Oak Grove Baptist and many other Harford churches, opposing same-sex marriage is a matter of biblical principle.
"As a Christian, you read the Bible and in multiple places in the Bible, it says men should not have relations with a man [like with a woman], and that is in several places," Cash said. "As a Christian, I believe the Bible is the inerrant word of God, so that was why I felt so strongly against [the bill]."
"If somebody wants to live that kind of lifestyle, that is up to them, and I don't have any kind of animosity to them," Cash continued. "That is an area that we have to agree to disagree with them."
Oak Grove Baptist has not been alone in supporting the referendum.
Grandview Christian Church in Fallston has taken part in the petition drive as well, and Calvary Baptist Church in Bel Air got 300 signatures toward the petition during three recent Sunday drives at the church.
The church trained a couple of dozen volunteers to properly fill out the petitions, and some of them joined Oak Grove Baptist at the MVA petition drive.
Calvary associate pastor Michael Nerney said the effort has gone very well.
"We have been very pleased with the participation here," he said. "For us to eclipse the 300 mark tells me that pretty much every registered voter in the congregation was supportive."
Nerney said the battle is an important one for the church.
"It is a very important issue from a biblical standpoint and redefining marriage. Marriage was God's idea, not man's idea," he said. "As a church, we chose to get involved."
He said the church will of course also be encouraging voters to get out in November to actually make their voices heard on the issue.
Despite the controversy that the same-sex marriage issue has caused politically, Cash, of Oak Grove, said she has not gotten much negative or controversial response to the local petitioning activities.
"Most of the negative response has been people who said they weren't interested," she said. "The overall goal of the Alliance is to give everyone in the state an opportunity to sign the petition."
"We have gotten very good response," she continued. "We have actually had people come by and say, 'Oh, we were looking for a place to sign.'"
Local views on same-sex marriage are not, however, one-sided. Harford religious leaders have spoken out on both sides of this debate, as have those throughout the state.
The Rev. Lisa Ward, of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Harford County, was very active in supporting the same-sex marriage bill during the several years it took the legislature to pass it.
Her congregation, which is just down the road from Oak Grove Baptist Church, has featured a "Civil Marriage is a Civil Right" banner and has a LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) Task Force.
The Rev. Patricia M. Drost, of St. George's Spesutia Church in Aberdeen, also signed a religious coalition petition in support of marriage equality in March, according to http://www.equalitymaryland.org, the website for Equality Maryland, which says it is the state's largest gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender rights organization.
Other petition drives
Same-sex marriage is not the only ballot issue likely to come before Maryland voters in 2012 in which Harford County residents are playing an active role.
The county's residents also played a big part of last year's massive drive to petition'sMaryland's Dream Act, granting in-state tuition rates to children of illegal immigrants, to referendum.
Pending court challenges, the Dream Act is going to be on the ballot this November.
Glass, who was focused on the same-sex marriage petition earlier, has also become the county coordinator for an effort to take the new congressional redistricting map to referendum.
He said he has personally gotten about 500 signatures so far, and believes about 2,000 have been collected in Harford overall.
"The map is terrible. It's not contiguous at all. It splits Harford County in two," Glass said. "It's a terrible map."
Glass has gone to places like restaurants, post office branches and events like First Fridays in Bel Air and Havre de Grace to collect signatures.
He plans to work even harder in the coming weeks and remains confident, despite the long way he has to go to attain enough signatures.
"We are going to push through and we are going to get it done," he said.