Joint Hearing of House Health and Government Operations & House Judiciary Committees
Chairman Hammen, Chairman Vallario, Vice Chairwoman Pendergrass, Vice Chairwoman Dumais:
There are certain aspirations that I believe all of us share; certain hopes. One of the most basic is the hope that every child in our State has the opportunity to live in a loving, caring, committed, and stable home, protected equally under the law.
Earlier this week, as they ruled on California’s Proposition 8, the Judges of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals wrote that to treat families differently under the law because they happen to be led by gay or lesbian couples serves to, quote, “lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians, and to officially reclassify their relationships and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples.”
As I shared with all of you just a few days ago at the State of the State, if there is a common thread running through our efforts together in Maryland – including controversial efforts – it is the thread of human dignity; the dignity of work, the dignity of family, the dignity of faith, the dignity of every individual.
It is not right or just that the children of gay couples should have lesser protections than the children of other families in our State. Nor would it be right to force religious institutions to conduct marriages that conflict with their own religious beliefs and teachings.
The mystery of human existence; the mystery of our own relationships with one another; mystery of our own individual relationships with the creator of Creation, is a deep, deep mystery. All faiths search for the truth that is at the center of that mystery. This search requires individual freedom. And this search also requires religious freedom.
In fact, the very reason for our State’s founding was for religious freedom. And at the heart of religious freedom is respect for the freedom of individual conscience.
We are a people of many different religions and many different faiths. The only way forward, in a pluralistic society of diverse faiths such as ours, is to have laws that protect and respect the freedom of all, equally.
In New Hampshire, they’ve been able to come together and pass a law that protects individual civil marriage rights and religious freedom equally. In New York, last year, they came together in a bipartisan way to protect each of these freedoms. And in Washington State just this week, they came together to do the same.
In all, seven states have passed laws protecting individual civil marriage rights and religious freedom equally. We have the opportunity to do the same thing.
Here in Maryland, we already recognize civil marriages performed in other states and just over our border in the District of Columbia. The civil marriage equality bill that you consider today draws upon the lessons we’ve learned from these other states – where none of these measures would have passed were it not for the explicit protections of religious freedom.
This bill balances equal protection of individual civil marriage rights with the important protection of religious freedom for all.
Because it protects both these unalienable rights, it is supported by a broad coalition of Marylanders, which includes clergy, community leaders, faith-based organizations, civil rights groups, and those who hold that most important of all titles in our State: the title of citizen.
Moms and dads from across our State want the same things for their kids: we want them to live in a loving, caring, committed, and stable home protected equally under the law.
I urge you to pass the bill before you and allow our State to move forward with protection for religious freedom and protection for the individual freedom of all.