In a show of support for the Civil Marriage Protection Act being considered by the Maryland Judicial Proceedings Committee at 1 p.m. Tuesday, Marylanders for Marriage Equality gathered a group of sympathetic clergy at the Maryland Inn in Annapolis at 9:30 a.m. to push the legislature to pass the bill.
Roughly two dozen clergy gathered with several of the bill’s supporters, lawmakers and same-sex couples that would be affected by the bill prior to a lobbying effort at the capitol.
During the final prayer of a morning breakfast, Baptist minister Rev. David Gilmore told the group, “Yes I am a traditional black baptist minister — I don’t always think like a baptist,” he continued, however.
The minister hoped that his views would spread to his fellow Baptists. “God will open the minds of the rest of the baptist community,” he said.
After a breakfast punctuated by prayers for the success of the bill, Rev. MacArthur Flournoy, faith director of Marylanders for Marriage Equality, introduced a select group of the clerics who spoke passionately in favor of the bill.
“I have colleagues in this state that are concerned about religious exemptions in the marriage equality legislation before the state assembly,” said Rabbi Daniel Berg of Baltimore, the first of the clergy to speak. “I am here to tell you that I am also a man of faith. I am also a servant of God, and my belief is that God doesn’t want any of us to live a life of shame, inequality or fear.”
“God does not wish for us to condemn a portion of humanity to secrecy or celibacy or worse,” Berg said, referencing the book of Genesis. “It is not good for man to be alone.”
Rev. Starlene Joyner Burns of SJB Ministries emphasized that there is no difference in love between same-sex and opposite-sex couples. “The only thing that’s missing here in Maryland is that they cannot legally get married and provide the kind of protection that marriage and a certificate can bring,” Rev. Burns said. “That piece of paper that’s meaningless to some has a whole lot of meaning to those who can’t get it.”
Rev. Burns discussed the discrimination faced by same-sex couples in accessing survivor’s benefits. “We need change and we need it now.” “Religious freedom and marriage equality can and do go hand in hand.”
Episcopal priest Angela Shepherd asserted that support of marriage equality is a matter of civic good. “Many of us maintain our love for humanity by agreeing to disagree and therefore causing no harm,” Rev. Shepherd told the gathering. “However there is a wider venue that encompasses family and faith communities and that is the civic arena.”
Shepherd spoke about the pressure lawmakers were feeling from religious leaders opposed to the bill.
“Unfortunately some supportive elected officials have been threatened by a few religious leaders who are opposed to this bill,” Shepherd said. “Our separation of church and state is being compromised.”
“Same-gender couples have built lives that are grounded in love,” Shepherd concluded. “At heart of this matter is that four-letter word: love.”
Sister Jeannine Gramick, a Catholic nun who has worked for LGBT inclusion in the Roman Catholic Church since the 1970s, and Dr. Jeffery McCune who also spoke, discussed the changing definition of families throughout history, and the importance of religious leaders welcoming all.
“Marriage is sacred, and that is exactly the reason why I as a rabbi and as a religious person support marriage equality,” Rabbi. Berg said. “The bill before the General Assembly will in no way force you to bless same-sex unions, but yours is not the only authentic religious perspective.”
At 1 p.m. today both supporters and opponents of the bill will be given time to testify before the Senate committee on behalf of their constituencies. Each side will be given two hours to offer their arguments. Supporters of the bill expected to testify include some of the clergy that attended this morning’s rally, same-sex couples, children of gay parents and progressive leaders including representatives of the ACLU Maryland and the 1199 SEIU local.