Commissioners' proclaim Marriage Week, gay community reacts

As the Civil Marriage Protection Act is discussed in the Maryland Senate, the Carroll County Board of Commissioners would like residents to remember the importance of marriage, specifically of that between a man and a woman, according to a release from the county.

On Jan. 31, the commissioners signed and issued a proclamation recognizing the dates of Feb. 7-14 as Marriage Week, a week meant to nationally honor marriage between one man and one woman.

"While Marriage Week may be a national event, the institution of marriage is extremely important locally," said Commissioner Haven Shoemaker, R-District 2. "On a regular basis, we, as commissioners, see the costs associated with the breakdown of the family unit in terms of the provision of social services, juvenile services, and the like. That is why we felt it important to promote marriage."

If passed, the Civil Marriage Protection Act would change the definition of marriage. According to the act, marriage would be considered a union between individuals rather than between a man and a woman. Additionally the act states that religious officials and leaders would have the right to refuse performing a civil marriage if it is against their religious teachings or beliefs.

The bill was first introduced in the Senate Jan. 20. It remains in the Senate, assigned to the Judicial Proceedings Committee.

"The commissioners don't have an official policy on the proposed legislation except for what can be discerned by the proclamation," said Shoemaker. "For me, however, I disagree with Governor [Martin] O'Malley's efforts to redefine marriage as anything other than being between a man and a woman."

According to Commissioner Robin Fraizer, R-District 1, this is the fifth year that the Carroll County Board of Commissioners has signed some type of Marriage Week support document. In past years, the board has signed a Marriage Resolution jointly with the Carroll Delegates of the Maryland General Assembly in addition to a proclamation.

"The commissioners' support for marriage week is both positive and affirming," Frazier said. "Marriage as an institution of a man and a woman has been the fundamental building block of human civilization, binding past generations to the future and is the most pro-child institution ever created."

According to Amy Gilford, community relations director for Marriage Resource Center of Carroll County, the Board of Commissioners has issued Marriage Week proclamations at the organization's urging.

"Our focus is usually on the positive but we still cannot overlook the profound human and financial cost, especially to children, as marriage declines," Gilford said. "Our commissioners are part of a national campaign to strengthen marriage. These local and national efforts to bring attention to healthy marriage strengthens MRC's overall message and connects all of us... ."

Though the issued proclamations and a community press release announcing Marriage Week are not meant to offend anyone, the commissioners are specifically endorsing the relationship between a man and a woman, Frazier said.

"We do not support discrimination against any individual because of his or her sexual orientation," Frazier said. "As faith and community leaders, we minister to, and provide services to, all people. The commissioners firmly believe however, that the institution of marriage can only belong to the union of one man and one woman... ."

However, gay residents of Carroll County cannot help but see such pronouncements as excluding, limiting and hurtful, said Tim Hurley, a self-described out-and-proud gay man living in Hampstead.

"I felt excluded," Hurley said of reading the Marriage Week press release. "Anytime someone limits marriage to something between a man and a woman, it indicates to me that their consciousness has not opened fully to the possibilities."

The commissioners are hiding behind their religious views rather than taking an unbiased look at the issues, said June Horner, spokeswoman for the Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays organization in Westminster.

"The proclamation makes clear that the worthy goals to which the commissioners supposedly aspire are meant exclusively for one man and one woman couples," Horner said. "Their intention to exclude a minority segment of our county's population based on their own personal religious views is reprehensible and tremendously offensive."

Most of Carroll County is a conservative church-going county and it is clear the majority is against gay marriage, Hurley said.

However, elected officials are supposed to represent both the majority and the overlooked minority, Hurley said. In this case, the commissioners are violating separation of church and state, he said.

"Leaders, like the commissioners, have the chance to raise the bar and go against the majority," Hurley said. "It should be liberty and justice for all. It's in the constitution."

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