Emotions flare over same-sex marriage
March 2, 2006
"People place their hand on the Bible and swear to uphold the Constitution; they don't put their hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible," -Jamie Raskin
Despite rejection of a similar bill by House lawmakers last month, a Senate committee took up yesterday the emotionally charged debate over whether Maryland should ban same-sex marriage in its constitution.
Clergy, constitutional law experts and children of gay parents were among those who packed the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee room to speak out on the issue.
The marriage debate dominated the opening weeks of the legislature after a Baltimore judge sided with 19 gay men and women, ruling that Maryland's 33-year-old law defining marriage between a man and a woman was unconstitutional. The discussion shows few signs of dying down.
Sen. Nancy Jacobs, a Republican who represents Harford and Cecil counties, engaged in an impassioned debate with Jamie Raskin, a constitutional law professor from American University, over the influence of the Bible on modern law.
"As I read Biblical principles, marriage was intended, ordained and started by God - that is my belief," she said. "For me, this is an issue solely based on religious principals."
Raskin shot back that the Bible was also used to uphold now-outlawed statutes banning interracial marriage, and that the constitution should instead be lawmakers' guiding principle.
"People place their hand on the Bible and swear to uphold the Constitution; they don't put their hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible," he said.
Some in the room applauded, which led committee chairman Sen. Brian E. Frosh, a Democrat from Montgomery County, to call for order. "This isn't a football game," he said.
While the failed House measure included a ban on civil unions, which opponents argued was too broad, the Senate bill would ask voters only whether same-sex marriage should be banned.
Some proponents of the Senate bill, which would allow voters to decide in the November election whether to prohibit same-sex marriage, said it has a better chance than a House measure killed earlier this session.
But the sponsor, Sen. Larry E. Haines, a Republican representing Baltimore and Carroll counties, said he believes Democratic Senate leaders would prefer to ignore the bill because placing the question of gay marriage on the ballot in an election year could drive up turnout from conservatives, possibly helping Republican candidates in the fall.
"We have the support. The key is getting a vote," said Haines.