Foes of same-sex marriage launch coalition
Religious opponents of a planned push to bring same-sex marriage to Maryland have launched a new coalition, bringing their organizing efforts into two Democratic strongholds that are expected to be a battleground for the votes of African-American legislators.
The Maryland Marriage Alliance, described as a multi-racial and bipartisan coalition of supporters of the traditional definition of marriage, held a news conference Wednesday morning in Prince George's County and planned a second kickoff event in the afternoon in Baltimore.
Supporters of same-sex marriage, who came up just short of success in the House of Delegates this year after winning a close vote in the Senate, plan a renewed effort during the 2012 General Assembly session. Unlike last year, when they had only the tacit support of Gov. Martin O'Malley, they are expecting the governor to make their cause a part of his legislative program.
Maryland Marriage Alliance organizers said proponents of same-sex marriage believe that victory in inevitable.
"We have something to say about that inevitability, and with all humility let me say: Bring it on," said the Rev. Victor Kirk, senior pastor of Sharon Bible Fellowship in Temple Hills in Prince George's County.
An estimated 70-80 clergy and other Catholic and Protestant leaders gathered at St. Stephen's Baptist Church in Temple Hills for the morning news conference. While those attending were almost entirely Protestants and Catholics, alliance spokeswoman Julia Vidmar said the organization will actively seek the participation of Mormon, Jewish, Islamic and other faith groups.
The alliance will be led by Pastor Derek McCoy, executive director of the Maryland Family Alliance. McCoy said no elected officials were expected for the Temple Hills event, but he said he expects church groups to have a significant influence on lawmakers in Prince George's and Baltimore.
"We're going to continue to expand and reach more and more people, but we understand all politics is local," McCoy said.
Republicans, with the exception of Sen. Allan H. Kittleman of Howard County, are expected to provide a solid bloc of votes against any effort to recognize same-sex marriage. The battle, as it did last year, could largely come down to a handful of African-American delegates who normally vote with their party but are influenced by conservative churches on matters of family and marriage.
Deacon Al Turner, representing the Office of Black Catholics for the Archdiocese of Washington, said the group has not come together to oppose other legal accommodations for gay people -- just to assert that marriage between a man and a woman is unique.
"No one here would tolerate a hint of discrimination," he said.
But some alliance members accused same-sex marriage proponents of being less respectful. "Those who oppose it must be treated as bigots," said St. Stephens Pastor Lanier Tyman, who charged that adoption of marriage rights for same-sex couples would lead to violations of the clergy's right to free speech and an eventual government mandate to perform such weddings.
But Lisa Polyak, a spokeswoman for Equality Maryland, said proponents have no such intentions.
“We are 100 percent in support of religious liberty of even people who don’t agree with us,” she said. "Allowing same-sex couples to obtain a civil marriage license in no way impairs or diminishes religious liberty,”
Polyak said proponents also have a coalition --- Marylanders for Marriage Equality – that also includes .African-American leaders and clergy. She mentioned former NAACP Chairman Julian Bond; civil rights hero Rep. Johns Lewis and the Rev. Al Sharpton as African-Americans who have publicly supported same-sex marriage.
African-American gays and lesbians, she said, are doubly discriminated against on the basis of race and sexual orientation, Polyak said.
“There are African-American citizens in the city and in Prince George’s County who doubly need these protections,” she said.