ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Maryland state Del. Emmett Burns Jr. (D-Baltimore County) railed against comparisons between LGBT and black civil rights last week during a hearing for his bill that would block recognition of same-sex marriage licenses issued out of state.
Burns claimed that he doesn’t support discrimination, but was tired of same-sex marriage supporters raising the Loving v. Virginia ruling that struck down interracial marriage bans. He said the current ban on same-sex marriage is not the same.
“It is not discriminatory,” he said during the House Judiciary Committee hearing Jan. 31 in Annapolis. “I cannot hide my color. I don’t want to. I’m proud to be who I am. But those who are of a different sexual orientation could.”
His exchange with fellow Democratic committee members grew testy as they quoted NAACP Chair Julian Bond and U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) as saying the LGBT and black civil rights struggles were shared. Burns dismissed the comments, saying he didn’t recognize their leadership.
Burns said the state faces a crisis with the neighboring District of Columbia poised to begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses, a development that could put Maryland’s same-sex marriage ban at risk.
Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler has given no timeframe for when he will release a long-expected opinion on the issue of recognizing same-sex marriage licenses issued in D.C. and elsewhere, but some sources speculated that he will wait until the legislative session ends in April to take that step. Burns said he feared Gansler’s opinion could legislate same-sex marriage “through the back door.”
“Our back door is wide open,” Burns said. “Our law does not speak to marriages performed in other jurisdictions.”
Committee member Michael Smigiel Sr. (R-Caroline, Cecil, Kent and Queen Anne’s counties) added that he believes Gansler has a political agenda and would act only after the current session had ended.
Gansler’s spokesperson denied the claim this week, saying the attorney general was still investigating the issue.
Mary Ellen Russell, executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference, testified in support of Burns’ bill during the hearing, saying the recognition of out-of-state same-sex marriages would undermine the right of the General Assembly and the people of Maryland to decide the issue.
“The legalization of same-sex marriage in a small number of other states, and the prospect of its legalization in our neighboring jurisdiction, the District of Columbia, provides no legitimate legal cause for granting recognition in Maryland to those marriages,” Russell said. “House Bill 90 provides an added measure of assurance to the people of Maryland that the decisions of out-of-state courts or legislatures cannot, and should not, provide grounds for usurping the legitimate democratic process in our state for deciding this issue.”
She added that the Catholic Church supports the state’s current marriage definition in recognition that “only a man and a woman are capable of bringing children, our society’s next generation, into the world” and that voters have repeatedly agreed, even in liberal states.
Committee Chair Joseph Vallario Jr. (D-Calvert and Prince George’s counties) asked if gay Marylanders could meet, go to D.C., conduct a “drive through” wedding, return to Maryland and expect that marriage to be recognized “without even leaving their car.”
Lawyers for Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union testified that Maryland’s 1973 law defining marriage as one man and one woman would not be undermined if the attorney general upheld the full faith and credit clause of the U.S. Constitution, which mandates recognition of other states’ marriage licenses.
Del. Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery County) testified against the bill, citing her own California-issued marriage certificate to her spouse Deborah.
“This bill is about me, and it’s about my family, and it’s about thousands of families across the state,” Mizeur said. “In Pasadena, Calif. — 3,000 miles from here — we’re treated as a married couple. In Pasadena, Md. — less than 30 minutes from here — we’re not. In Cambridge, Mass., our marriage would protect us were life to deal us a bad hand. In Cambridge, Md., we’re two unrelated women with some very expensive legal documents and a lot of uncertainty.”
Mizeur said Maryland’s current legal recognition of same-sex couples grants her 12 statutory rights of the 425 rights bestowed upon married couples.
Mizeur said she didn’t know how Gansler would decide the issue, but said that Maryland has a long tradition of upholding the full faith and credit clause and Maryland would eventually change its law, anyway.
“But either way, this bill is wrong,” she said. “It’s a step backwards for a state that presses forward.”
The hearing drew a standing-room-only crowd of mostly same-sex marriage supporters, including high school students, who frequently reacted to Burns’ colorful explanations of why LGBT bans were not discrimination.
Burns’ bill is not believed to have the necessary votes to make it out of the House Judiciary Committee. However, the as-yet-unscheduled vote will not be an indicator of support for legalizing same-sex marriage in Maryland.
Mizeur told DC Agenda that she doubts a marriage equality bill would be introduced in the state House this year. While confident there are enough votes in the House Judiciary Committee to pass such a bill, Mizeur said same-sex marriage supporters are still shy of their goal in the companion Senate committee.
“We have supporters [in the House] who we don’t want to put at risk when there isn’t the support in the Senate,” she told DC Agenda, alluding to possible electoral fallout.
Equality Maryland is holding its annual lobby day Feb. 8.