Law would not force churches to perform gay weddings, spots note

Supporters of same-sex marriage began running two television commercials in the Baltimore market this week. Each features a Baptist minister pointing out that the new Maryland law would not force churches to perform same-sex ceremonies.

What the ads say: The Rev. Donte Hickman Sr. of Southern Baptist Church in Baltimore speaks in one ad, while the other features the Rev. Delman Coates of Mount Ennon Baptist Church in Prince George's County. Both commercials are funded by Marylanders for Marriage Equality.

The men offer nearly identical messages. Hickman looks into the camera and says: "I support this law because it does not force any church to perform a same-sex marriage if it's against their beliefs."

In the other ad, Coates says: "I would not want someone denying my rights based upon their religious views; therefore I should not deny others based upon mine."

The facts: Section three of Maryland's same-sex marriage law includes a provision that says religious institutions are not required to conduct or "celebrate" gay weddings. The bill was amended during the debate to include a nonseverability clause so that if the religious protections were knocked down by a court, the whole statute would be void.

Opponents do not dispute the ad's claim. But they call the religious protection provision a "straw man" intended distract from the main debate over marriage. They point out that both the Maryland Constitution and federal law prevent the government from forcing a religious institution from conducting ceremonies.

"You are giving me something that was already mine," said the Rev. Derek McCoy, executive director of the Maryland Marriage Alliance, which opposes the same-sex marriage law. "It was never yours in the first place."

Analysis: The ads are designed to counter a push by opponents of same-sex marriage who are urging black churches, in particular, to preach opposition to same-sex marriage from the pulpit.

Both sides are wooing black voters this year, since they made up about 25 percent of the Maryland electorate in 2008 and are expected to turn out in similar numbers in November. Polls have shown that African-Americans increasingly support same-sex marriage.

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