Sides trade arguments on same-sex marriage

Del. Heather Mizeur choked back tears as she described losing her best friend after she told him she was gay.

Del. Emmett C. Burns spoke for the first time about being propositioned by men when he was a child.

Another speaker, a 38-year-old Pikesville man, said he dreams of attending the marriage of his two moms.

Friday's House of Delegates hearing on Gov. Martin O'Malley's bill to legalize same-sex marriage was packed with deeply personal anecdotes and arguments, as advocates and opponents sought to make the best possible cases for their sides.

A 14-year-old girl said she doesn't want to be taught about homosexuality. The committee also heard from a man who leads a group that helps people leave "the gay lifestyle."

Also testifying were the parent of a gay child who traveled to Canada to attend his son's wedding and lay Catholics who have broken with the church over its opposition to the bill.

It was unclear if the testimony moved any of the 45 delegates during the joint hearing held by the House Judiciary Committee and House Health and Government Operations Committee. Testimony continued seven hours after the hearing began.

By most counts, the House is evenly split on the Civil Marriage Protection Act, with about a dozen lawmakers who have not made up their minds. The measure is still a handful short of the 71 votes needed for passage.

House leaders created an oversized hearing room to accommodate the session, removing a partition that usually divides two chambers. The room filled to capacity seven minutes after the doors opened, leaving those who could not find a seat to listen in a spillover room.

Attendees wore pins and shirts to make clear their positions. One read "I love New York," a nod to the law approved there last year allowing gay couples to marry.

Another read "Proud to be a Coward," a reference to the remark by first lady Katie O'Malley about some delegates who switched their vote last year to oppose the bill.

Martin O'Malley entered the room flanked by two African-American pastors.

Neither the Rev. Donte Hickman Sr. of Southern Baptist Church in Baltimore nor the Rev. Delman Coates of Mount Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton would perform a same-sex wedding ceremony in their churches. But they said they were satisfied that the bill would protect their religious rights.

"It doesn't threaten my religious convictions," Hickman said. Just as he does not want the state to dictate religious doctrine, he said, the church should not dictate public policy.

"Let be the church be the church, the state be the state and God be the judge," Hickman said.

The governor spoke briefly, reiterating his view that lawmakers should view the issue "through the eyes of the children" it would affect.

Del. Mike McDermott, an Eastern Shore Republican, suggested introducing the measure as a constitutional amendment, which would be decided directly by the voters.

O'Malley urged lawmakers to pass the bill.

"People have sent you here to make decisions for them," he said. "It is best to step up and make the decision."

Opponents opened with two of the most vocal House critics of same-sex marriage: Burns and Del. Don Dwyer.

Dwyer, an Anne Arundel County Republican, has said he has no agenda this year other than to defeat the governor's bill. He employed a tactic that has proved effective in other states: warning that legalizing same-sex marriage would lead to homosexuality being taught to children.

Dwyer passed around a children's book titled "King & King" about two men who get married. He said that such materials could be used in grade schools should the bill become law.

Del. Bonnie L. Cullison, a Montgomery County Democrat, shot back that the bill "in no way" mandates changes in curriculum.

In Maryland, she noted, local school systems have a process for vetting materials that includes review by parents, teachers and community leaders.

One of the most stunning moments came when Burns, a Baltimore County Democrat, told the panel that he was propositioned by men for sex on two occasions when he was growing up in Mississippi.

"Even as a boy, I knew there was something wrong with that," Burns said. "Nobody had to tell me."

Burns said that the same instinct tells him that "there is something wrong with men marrying men."

The Senate held a hearing last week on an identical bill. That chamber passed a same-sex marriage bill last year.