The Episcopal Church took a major step toward recognizing same-sex unions this week when delegates at its triennial General Convention in Indianapolis voted overwhelmingly to allow priests to bestow the church's blessings on gay couples in lifetime committed relationships. Though the resolution stopped just short of declaring the blessing a marriage rite, and its use by priests remains contingent on the approval of local bishops, the move marks a growing acceptance by one of the country's oldest, most established denominations that gay people have always been part of the church and that their presence should be acknowledged in its liturgy.
The church's evolving position on same-sex unions comes just as Maryland opponents of gay marriage are gearing up to overturn the law legalizing same-sex unions passed by the General Assembly earlier this year. On Tuesday, the state Board of Elections certified a petition to put the measure on the November ballot after verifying more than 109,000 signatures submitted by the Maryland Marriage Alliance, a church-led group pushing for repeal. If the measure survives the fall referendum, Maryland would become the first state in the country in which voters approved a gay marriage law on a statewide ballot.
Polls show the public almost evenly divided on the issue, although the trend in recent years has been toward greater acceptance of marriage equality. Like the delegates to the Episcopal Church's convention, a growing number of Marylanders have come to realize that gay couples in long-term, committed relationships have always lived in their midst as neighbors and colleagues who have contributed to their communities. Moreover, many of them are raising families, and the children of those unions are going to be here regardless of the outcome of November's referendum.
As a practical matter, the referendum will decide a narrow question. Because the Court of Appeals has ruled that Maryland must recognize gay marriages performed in other states, all that really is at stake is whether same-sex couples who wish to make a lifelong commitment can be legally joined in a civil marriage ceremony performed in the state, or whether they have to travel a few miles down the road to the District of Columbia.
The philosophical question posed by the referendum, though, is of great significance. Are all Maryland families entitled to the same protections under the law? Are all children, no matter who their parents are, entitled to the same kind of support?