For generations, marriage has been known as a legal contract between a man and a woman to Maryland’s millions of residents.
Heavy lobbying by a group of local activists has all but certainly changed that traditional definition of marriage last week, when one single lawmaker, Senator Jim Rosapepe (D) threw his support for a bill in Maryland legislature.
The support of Senator Rosapepe, who also represents College Park, makes the number of State Senators supporting the same-sex marriage bill (SB611) to 24, a much crucial number when it comes to the votes needed to pass the bill in the Senate.
Out of 47 Senators, 21 have publicly opposed the bill. (Click here to see where the Senators stand.)
Senators will vote on the bill as early as this week, after a Senate panel sent the bill to the Senate floor with a 7-4 vote last week. After the bill passes in the Senate, the bill will be voted by the States House of Delegates, where the bill is expected to face a lesser resistance. Governor O’Mally has promised that he will sign the bill to law if it comes to his table.
Local courts could begin performing same-sex ceremonies as early as October in Maryland.
The same-sex mariage bill was introduced early this year after Democratic Party captured two additional Senate seats in the last November election.
Speaking of lobbying, the Washington Post says: “Shortly after the [Senate] committee vote, Sen. James C. Rosapepe (D-Prince George’s)issued a statement endorsing the legislation. Rosapepe, whose district includes College Park, has been heavily lobbied by university students and others who support the bill.”
A group of lobbyists from the University of Maryland handed over some 450 letters of support to Senator Rosapepe, as part of what they call the “Tell Jim” campaign.
Reflecting on the meeting with Senator Rosapepe, College Democrats President Daniel Borman later talked about what he saw firsthand the impact of their lobbying effort. “As I said how many letters I had, [Rosapepe] said ‘Wow,’ and then I handed him the letters,” said Borman. “I do think it made a difference that so many letters were sent by students. It’s hard for him to ignore the 440 letters in his hands.”
College Park’s first openly gay council member (Dist 1) Patrick Wojahn, spoke at UMD’s Student Government Association meeting, advocating their support for the bill. Mr. Wojahn’s collegue in district 4, council member Marcus Afzali was also present at the forum and spoke in support of the proposed bill.
Unconfirmed reports say dozens of College Park residents also contacted Mr. Rosapepe’s office, telling their opposition to the proposed bill.
Beacuse of the highly sensitive nature of the issue, some have criticized involvement of lawmakers in deciding the marriage rule in the state. “People have very strong personal beliefs about something that is, in many ways, a religious issue,” said Del. Aisha N. Braveboy(D-Dist. 25) of Mitchellville.
Among the opponents, Braveboy and many others have called for a statewide referendum on the issue rather than having lawmakers change the code.
Lawmakers took a similar approach n 2008 after years of failing to agree whether or not to allow slot machine gambling at locations in Maryland. “An issue of this magnitude needs a referendum,” said Del. Michael L. Vaughn (D-Dist. 24) of Bowie. “We had a referendum on slots, and this is far more substantial. ”
In the meantime, the debates on the issue continue.
While supporters of the bill think it’s a “civil rights” issue, opponents say “rights” have nothing to do with it.
“Opposite-sex relationships are the only type capable of producing children through natural intercourse and the only ones assured of providing children with both a mother and a father.” – said Peter Sprigg, a senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council in Washington D.C.. “Marriage should be limited to opposite-sex couples because it is about raising children” – Sprigg added.
Faith also plays a major role for many in opposing the same-sex marriage bill. All major religious denominations speak against homosexual practices.
“I’m a trustee in my church, and my church teaches me that marriage is between a man and a woman,” said Delegate Carolyn J.B. Howard(D-Dist. 24, Landover), who is among at least 10 members who have spoken publicly against the bill.
If the legislation is approved, a 2012 ballot referendum on gay marriage is highly likely.
A recent poll found that the majority of Maryland voters are against gay marriage, with 54 percent in support of marriage between one man and one woman compared to 37 percent who said marriage should be available to same-sex couples.