For supporters of same-sex marriage, it's about rights and love

Michelle McNutt and Erin Saywell wake up in the morning and take care of their eight dogs, who Michelle affectionately calls her children. Saywell runs a small business from her home in Eldersburg dog training and pet-sitting. They met through a dog-hiking group, and both play flyball, where dogs relay in a race to get a tennis ball.

McNutt and Saywell have been in a relationship for about a year, and the two are engaged to be married, said McNutt, 49. That is, if the Civil Marriage Protection Act is not overturned through a referendum in November.

"Life keeps going, so why would it matter if we're married? You wouldn't even know," Saywell, 37, said.

Saywell and McNutt said they want to get married for a simple reason: love.

This sentiment was echoed by June Horner, a mother of three, and spearhead behind Carroll County's Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. Horner's children are adults, and have been with their respective partners for 25 years or more, which complicates why her son cannot be married.

"Why do people get married? For love, for family, for commitment," Horner said.

There are protections and benefits, Horner said, like property rights and adoption rights for certain couples. Horner said the reason she got married to her husband of 60 years was for love.

However, Horner said it feels like her son is treated as though he is a second-class citizen.

"The civil marriage through the government is simply going to the office, getting a license through the clerk and getting your little ceremony," Horner said. "And then there it is. Then you feel as if 'I'm like everybody else. I'm not second class.' To me it denotes second class citizenship for my son."

The Civil Marriage Protection Act establishes same-sex couples may enter a civil marriage, or have the legal ability to get a marriage license. The law will go into effect in January. Religious entities are not required to perform religious ceremonies against their theological doctrine, according to the text.

In 2011, Horner and other PFLAG chapters began putting together a book of letters to the Maryland legislature from gay and lesbian families, and their parents. The books included more than 33 stories and photos, which brought faces to the gay population of Maryland.

Over the years, PFLAG also has met with delegates and senators regarding their opinions on same-sex marriage, Horner said. State representatives in Carroll County, such as Del. Justin Ready, R-District 5A, have been receptive to speaking with PFLAG even if they do not agree with civil marriages.

Eventually, by meeting and interacting with members of PFLAG and other organizations, several representatives have announced support of gay marriage, such as Del. Wade Kach, R-District 5B, Horner said.

"I really feel that building that relationship with us over the years, and he got to know us, and it made a difference. So these things don't happen in a day or a year," Horner said.

Kach said in a statement in February, he was "significantly moved" by the testimony given by gay and lesbian families raising their children.

Sen. Allan Kittleman, R-District 9, also made the decision to vote in support of same-sex marriage, because of his longstanding belief in civil rights, he said. Kittleman's father, the late Sen. Robert Kittleman, fought for civil rights in the 1950s and 1960s, which instilled his son's belief in equal rights.

"I decided because I personally believe that people are born with that sexual orientation - it's not something that is learned, which I think is a difference between me and some people - it deserves to have equal rights and it's a civil rights issue because of that," Kittleman said.

The Republican senator said there was not a specific moment where he decided he believed in same-sex marriage, and it has been a longstanding belief. Kittleman voted for domestic partnerships in the 2008 legislative session and in 2010, he realized there were enough votes for same-sex marriage to pass.

Domestic partnerships allow for many health-care related decisions to be made by a partner in a same-sex partnership, including hospital visitation, and allowing a couple to live in the same room at a nursing home.

Kevin Nix, the spokesman for Marylanders for Marriage Equality said the law gives equal protections under the law, just like religious liberties are protected under the same-sex marriage law.

Kittleman said he sees the law as a governmental function, not a religious function, and changing the law would not greatly affect his life.

"I think this is a different issue than a pro-life issue. I think with this issue, you can say someone getting married has no effect on a third party," Kittleman said.

Supporters of traditional marriage, like Derek McCoy, the executive director of the Maryland Marriage Alliance, said it is possible same-sex marriage will be taught in schools, which can complicate relationships between children and parents who do not believe in same-sex marriage. Nix said ultimately, local school districts have control over what's taught in the classroom.

It is unlikely Carroll County would approve a curriculum which taught same-sex marriage, Horner said.

The Carroll County Board of Commissioners have proclaimed a Marriage Week, a week to honor marriage between a man and a woman, for the last five years.

Saywell and McNutt said being gay in Carroll County has not affected how the two are treated and they are open and happy for neighbors and others in the area to know about it.

"We're just your neighbors. We're doing the same thing everyone else is," Saywell said.

Horner said when the law is eventually passed - in a couple of years, if not in November - those who do not support same-sex marriage will move on.

"Do I really worry about what my neighbor across the street is doing or what kind of marriage they have?" Horner said. "As long as they're not keeping their yard too messy, or making too much noise. And I think that's the way it's going to be."

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