Scott Alexander, minister at River Road Unitarian Church, compares the recent changes in the status of same-sex marriage to another historic event.
“I think that this is like the night the Berlin Wall came down,” Alexander said.
One section of wall would fall in one part of the city, then another section in another part of the city until eventually the entire wall was down, Alexander said.
Alexander, who is gay, is surprised about the way the issue has exploded. “Just a year ago, nobody was talking about civil unions being possible,” Alexander said, but now, some are in favor of civil unions instead of allowing marriage.
THERE ARE CURRENTLY three bills making their way through the General Assembly about the issue; one would amend the Constitution, one would declare same-sex marriages from other states invalid, and a third would create a domestic partner registry.
None of Potomac’s legislators expressed support for amending any constitution, state or federal (see sidebar).
Legislators also pointed out that the bill which would invalidate marriages in other states is redundant. “I think that the legislation proposed in unnecessary,” said Del. Kathleen Dumais (D-15).
Maryland law (Family Law section 2-201) already defines marriage as something which is only valid between a man and a woman.
The third bill would create a registry, maintained by the state department of health. A same-sex couple could register and then they would be granted some limited privileges, such as riding in an ambulance with their partner or being allowed the same hospital visiting privileges currently allowed to married couples.
“I look at it from a civil rights perspective,” said Sen. Rob Garagiola (D-15). He thinks that allowing same-sex couples such privileges is not much to ask.
“When it comes to things like property rights and health care, they should have some of those,” Feldman said.
THE DISCUSSION SURROUNDING terminology — marriage or civil union — is also heating up. Depending on the way they are constructed, civil unions can confer most, if not all, of the benefits of marriage on a same-sex couple, without going the extra step of calling it marriage.
“There’s, I think, a semantics game here,” Feldman said. “I’m not sure what the difference would be.”
Some say that the difference is not important, as long as the benefits are made available. “For immediate purposes, I want all the civil and legal protections,” Alexander said. “I don’t have to have that word, myself.”
Both Feldman and Garagiola compared the idea of same-sex couples to their own marriages, and both agree that allowing same-sex couples to wed would not affect their relationships.
“It’s not clear to me recognizing a civil union between two gay people harms the institution,” Feldman said.
The entire issue, Feldman believes, will end up in the courts. He points out that the U.S. Constitution requires that states recognize the actions of other states, from driver’s licenses to marriage licenses.
The laws of various states which say that they do not recognize the same-sex marriages of other states will wind up in the courts, Feldman predicts. “The Defense of Marriage Act seems to fly in the face of the full faith and credit clause,” he said.
In spite of all of the challenges, Alexander is optimistic that same-sex couples will enjoy the same status as married couples.
“I think that there is an absolute inevitably to equal protection,” Alexander said. “It’s long overdue.”