February 10, 2011 | by Robert Turner
Maryland moving toward equality

One is sometimes indeed the loneliest number.  But standing up for justice and equality rarely starts with the masses. With his endorsement, Maryland State Sen. Allan Kittleman last week became the first, and unfortunately probably the only Republican senator to support SB 116, the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act, which would bring marriage equality to Maryland.

In previous statements, Kittleman has said, “I am a strong believer in personal liberty and freedom. I believe that we have an opportunity to make Maryland a more fair state, a more just state and a state which treats all of its citizens equally under the law.”

If SB 116 becomes law, the bill would remove the state requirement that a marriage be between a man and woman. There are also provisions to ensure that religious groups opposed to same-sex unions not be required to perform such marriages, hence the religious freedom aspects of the bill.

This is an important section of the bill. It says that we don’t seek to inflict our views on one’s free exercise of religion, as guaranteed by the First Amendment.

The Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee held a hearing on the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act on Tuesday, in which Sen. Kittleman testified. The measure is expected to pass out of committee and go to the full Senate for a final vote. There, the outcome is not so clear.  There are 20 definitive ‘yes’ votes and 21 ‘no’ votes, while 24 are needed to pass in the 47-member chamber.

If the Senate approves the legislation, it will move on to the House of Delegates, where groups such as Equality Maryland say they have the votes to pass it. Gov. Martin O’Malley has already signaled his willingness to sign the bill when it comes to his desk.

Marriage equality is a vital step in assuring the true meaning of our Constitution’s 14th Amendment clause of equal protection under the law. Thomas Jefferson once said, “No man has a natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another.”

We have seen over the years the outcome when the majority dictates what rights are afforded to the minority. From the Dred Scott cases of 1857 involving freedom, to the Loving v. Virginia case in 1967 dealing with interracial marriage, this great country has started out on the wrong side of history and equality, only to be rectified with the courts interceding.

Now, Maryland has a chance to not only come down on the right side of history, but to also do so without the involvement of the judicial branch of government.  In doing so, Maryland would join the District and five other states in recognizing same-sex marriage.

Many of the detractors to this bill have and will continue to argue on moral and religious grounds, quoting the Bible as to why this is a travesty.  May these detractors be reminded that this country was built on religious freedom. And may these detractors be also reminded that many of those who came before us used the same great Book to deny slaves their freedom.

It has been said repeatedly here on these pages and on many others that we are not seeking special rights, simply equal rights. Or, better put 143 years ago as part of the Fourteenth Amendment to our Constitution, “nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Maryland, this is the right thing to do. And Sen. Kittleman, thank you for your bravery in standing up for justice and equality.

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