Who's afraid of a marriage vote?


WASHINGTON -- Marylanders are being treated to a strange spectacle as they watch democratically elected officials shy away from the democratic process.

That is the only conclusion that can be drawn from maneuverings in the General Assembly regarding legislation to place a proposed amendment to the Maryland Constitution on the ballot this fall that would define marriage as the union of one man and one woman, just as it has been defined by state law since 1973.

Interest in the amendment was rekindled Jan. 20 when Baltimore Circuit Judge M. Brooke Murdock ruled, in a lawsuit brought by several homosexual couples, that limiting marriage to the union of one man and one woman violates the state constitution.

On Jan. 31, the state House Judiciary Committee again heard testimony on the Marriage Protection Act. About two dozen supporters of homosexual "marriage" showed up to protest, in contrast to the hundreds of supporters of marriage as a union between one man and one woman. They filled the hearing room to overflowing, and many waited outside the building for hours for a chance to make their viewpoint heard.

You would think that such strong support for a bill would at least guarantee a spirited floor debate. Wrong. The flurry of parliamentary maneuvers over the bill was astonishing.

First, there was a successful petition to bring the bill to the House floor. House Speaker Michael E. Busch swiftly adjourned the session rather than have the bill debated. Then the Judiciary Committee rejected the bill by a single vote. Finally, the full House refused to take it up again on a 78-61 vote.

What is most peculiar is that despite their determination to kill the bill, very few legislators have expressed support for changing the definition of marriage to include homosexual couplings. In fact, during the hearings, even witnesses against the amendment (representing the leadership of the NAACP and AFL-CIO) were reluctant to say that they support same-sex "marriage."

After Judge Murdock's ruling, simply avoiding the issue out of fear of offending either side is no longer an option. Waiting to see how the case is resolved on appeal in the courts is like saying, "Don't shut the barn door until after the horse is gone."

Do not underestimate the significance of the House refusal to act on the bill. In 2002, Massachusetts Senate President Thomas F. Birmingham gaveled to a close, without a vote, a constitutional convention that was certain to advance a marriage amendment to the ballot. With the people's voice silenced, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court was free, two years later, to declare that the state constitution guaranteed a right to homosexual "marriage."

Legislators who favor same-sex "marriage" should have the courage to say so and promote legislation to change the definition of marriage, not let the courts do their work for them. But legislators who claim to believe marriage is the union of a man and a woman should be honest enough to acknowledge that only a constitutional amendment will protect the definition of marriage.

Any legislator who believes in the democratic process should respect the rights of the people to make decisions that are so fundamental to the fabric of society.

If Democrats are worried that marriage will be used as a "wedge issue" against them in the November elections, there is a simple solution: They should endorse the amendment. It worked for President Bill Clinton when he signed the federal Defense of Marriage Act into law in 1996.

A marriage amendment also has been introduced as legislation in the Maryland Senate. Bills defeated in one legislative chamber are usually not taken up in the other. Then again, judges usually do not read into law radical redefinitions of foundational social institutions. The Senate should take up the Marriage Protection Act and act favorably on it.

Contrary to popular belief, marriage is not a divisive issue. There are few issues that unite Marylanders, and Americans, as much as a belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. There will be plenty of time for other debates about the rights and/or privileges of homosexuals. People know what "marriage" is, and they have the right to make their voices heard on this issue at the polls.

Peter Sprigg is vice president for policy at the Family Research Council, and a resident of Montgomery County. His e-mail is corrdept@frc.org.

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