Carroll County Times

Carroll County responds as marriage expands

Stephanie Gerber and Alison Reppert of Westminster will be celebrating their seven year anniversary together this February by planning their outdoor wedding in Thurmont this September.

Gerber said that they became engaged back in 2010, long before the passage of the Question Six referendum on the Nov. 2012 ballot that legalized marriage for same-sex couples in Maryland.

"We were going to run down to D.C. and make it official in D.C., and then have the ceremony and reception in Maryland. Question Six passed so now we can get married in the state we live in," Gerber said.

Brandon and Sean Carter-Cooper of Manchester did make the run down to D.C. to get married in April of 2012.

"We would have loved to have gotten married in Maryland but we didn't want to wait. We just went to the courthouse in D.C. because we wanted it to be legal," Sean Carter-Copper said.

Same-sex marriage has been a contentious issue in Carroll County, where the Question Six referendum actually lost by 44 to 56 percent of the vote, according to the Carroll County Board of Elections website.

Last February, the Commissioners issued a proclamation that declared Feb. 7 through Feb. 14 to be Marriage Week, and supporting the definition of marriage as being only between a man and a woman.

"With regard to marriage, my personal beliefs, I haven't changed them in any material way, notwithstanding the referendum vote. I firmly believe that the institution of marriage should remain the institution that it has been, because that is the bedrock of society. That's what really prompted that resolution last year and the year before," said Carroll County Commissioner Haven Shoemaker, R-District 2.

Timothy Hurley, a gay man living in Hampstead, said that the Commissioner's proclamation was disappointing.

"I wrote a letter to the commissioners explaining my disappointment. Marriage is not weakened by gay marriage, it is expanded and strengthened. Marriage is weakened by divorce and getting married for the wrong reasons," Hurley said.

While disagreements about how marriage should be defined will persist, Sheila Weber, executive director of National Marriage Week USA - the organization that sponsors Marriage Week - said that strengthening marriage can transcend the question of same-sex marriage.

"We do not address the issue of same sex marriage ... we believe it would be a distraction from the crisis that has been growing among men and women over the recent decades, which is a high divorce rate and more than 40 percent of all U.S. babies now born outside of marriage - a leading cause of poverty for both women and children. We believe both the left and the right can find areas of agreement in the goals of National Marriage Week USA, even if people hold different areas of disagreement on other matters," Weber said.

Shoemaker said that he does not yet know if the Commissioners will issue a similar proclamation this year, but while his views have not changed, the law has.

"The law of the land is the law of the land. It has been petitioned, Question six passed the referendum," Shoemaker said.

According to Rev. George Tuttle, pastor of St. Mark's Lutheran Church in Hampstead, the new law is something that church congregations will have to work through.

"Obviously, Carroll County, we're a pretty conservative community and I think a lot of our people were not in favor of same-sex marriage in our state. Personally, I fall out that way as well, but I also see the civil rights aspect of it. Our denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, very much believes that marriage between a man and a woman is what was established and intended by God. On the other hand, we all have the autonomy to decide for ourselves. Nobody will force a congregation to officiate at same sex marriage ceremonies if they do not want to," Tuttle said.

June Horner is the treasurer for the Westminster-Carroll County chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays organization, and she said that ultimately, the changes wrought by the passing of Question Six do not have to affect faith communities.

"Deciding to have a marriage ceremony in a church is beside the point. This bill is not about religious affirmation. It's simply about legal protection ... That's the beauty of it: the churches are protected. Many of the churches are not on board with doing wedding ceremonies [for same-sex couples] and that's just fine," Horner said.

One church that is on board with holding wedding ceremonies for gay and lesbian couples is St. Paul's United Church of Christ in Westminster, according to senior pastor, Rev. Marty Kuchma.

"As far as I know, we are the only ones in the county, who will happily perform same-sex marriages. The denomination as been out in front on this issue for decades now. The United Church of Christ ordained the first openly gay minister in any church in the country in 1972, in San Francisco. In 1985 the denomination came out in favor of open and affirming for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people. In 2005 the denomination formally took a stance in support of same-sex marriage," Kuchma said.

According to Kuchma, there are now several same-sex couples considering getting married at St. Paul's.

Horner said that ultimately, the changes that will take place will be focused on same-sex couples, not for those who opposed Question Six.

"It's not going to be painful to those that are not comfortable with same-sex marriage. Nobody's life is going to change, except for those who have now been given a level playing field. It will not affect every day life in any way," Horner said.