Gay marriage: The misinformation campaign begins

The campaign to affirm Maryland's marriage equality law at the ballot box began in earnest last week when the secretary of state released the official language that voters will see when they go to the polls in November. It lays out in straightforward terms what the law does and what it doesn't do. It allows Marylanders to vote for permitting gay and lesbian couples to obtain a civil marriage license but does not compel any religious figure to perform or recognize gay marriages or to provide goods or services for a gay wedding. Quite simply, it says that Maryland recognizes the need to treat everyone with fairness and equality while maintaining the respect for religious liberty that was a bedrock of this state's founding.

But it didn't take long for opponents to drag out the same specious attacks they have used to great effect in other states where gay marriage has been on the ballot. Within hours of the release of the ballot language, Derek McCoy, the executive director of the Maryland Marriage Alliance, the group that spearheaded the petition drive to put the law on the ballot, had telegraphed the arguments that we are likely to hear much more of in the months ahead. "Maryland parents who send their children to public schools are immediately asking how does this affect what is taught in schools," he said in a statement. "Business owners have a right to know if their personal opinions about same-sex marriage will find them in violation of the law."

Neither question has anything to do with the matter at hand, but since he asked, here are the answers: "Not at all" and "No."

The law passed by the General Assembly this year says nothing about what should or should not be taught in schools. Contrary to what opponents may try to imply, it includes no mandates about curriculum whatsoever. What is taught in schools is determined not by the legislature but by local superintendents and school boards, and they are focused on making sure students master reading, writing and math. Values are now taught at home, and they will continue to be if this law is affirmed.

As for the question of business owners, the opponents are raising the notion that, for example, a baker who opposed same-sex marriage and refused to produce a cake for a gay wedding could be sued for discrimination. This law has nothing to do with that, either. The gay marriage law is silent on the issue of public accommodations because that has been settled law in Maryland for more than a decade. Just as that hypothetical baker can't now refuse to serve someone because he is Catholic or black or disabled, he cannot refuse to serve someone because of his sexual orientation. That was the result of a law championed by then-Gov. Parris Glendening in 2001. It was controversial at the time, but it has not led to bakers (or anyone else) getting busted by the thought police in the decade since.

The opponents are resorting to spurious arguments to convince voters that the law will somehow be unfair to those with objections to gay marriages because they don't want to face the real question of fairness at stake. Should the law treat people differently because of their sexual orientation? Or should everyone be treated equally? Maryland's gay marriage ordinance doesn't require anyone to violate their religious beliefs or personal conscience. As much as we hope the debate over this issue will persuade everyone in the state of the value of acceptance and tolerance, the law doesn't force anyone to change the way they think. All it does is to remove a major vestige of discrimination from state law, and that is something all Marylanders should be able to support.

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