Maryland's Same-Sex Law Could Set Tone For Nation

Maryland's same sex marriage law passed the Maryland General Assembly in February, but soon after opponents collected signatures to have the legislation placed on the November ballot. If voters pass it, it will be the first successful referendum affirming a state law legalizing gay marriage.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

Next month, voters in Maryland, Maine and Washington state will decide whether to legalize same-sex marriage. If any of the state initiatives pass, it will be the first time gay marriage has been approved by popular vote.

We're going to hear now from Maryland where question six asks voters if they want to uphold a law, signed earlier this year, legalizing same-sex unions. A recent poll shows residents support the law by a nine-point margin. But voters on both sides are fired up as NPR's Allison Keyes reports.

ALLISON KEYES, BYLINE: The crowd at Riverdale Baptist Church in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, for a recent marriage briefing wasn't huge, but it was passionate.

WILLARD SAUNDERS: We are trying to redefine marriage to (unintelligible) conform to the imperfections of people.

KEYES: Bishop Willard Saunders' church is in Baltimore, but he was here, firing up members and supporters of the Maryland Marriage Alliance, which is against same-sex marriage. The group's chair, Derek McCoy, says opponents of this law span all racial and religious groups. He says he's on the right side of history in trying to thwart an attempt to redefine marriage in this state.

DEREK MCCOY: When you're dealing with the redefinition of marriage, you're dealing with the fundamental philosophy about what people think about marriage and what people hold as value and what that institution is about.

MARGARET TAYLOR: We fully believe in the sanctity of marriage.

KEYES: Margaret Taylor and her husband, David, were in the audience and say their opposition to the same-sex marriage law is about God and not about denying rights or dignity to anyone.

DAVID TAYLOR: The Bible says that marriage was instituted between a man and a woman. We did not get to define that, so why should we redefine it?

KEYES: George Kelly and his wife were there too. He says he's going to help get out the vote against same-sex marriage, and he's blunt when asked why.

GEORGE KELLY: Two men can't make a baby. Two women can't make a baby. If you have same-sex marriage, then how will we procreate? How would we make families?

KEYES: But on campus at the University of Maryland in College Park, a vocal group of supporters was trying to get out the vote in favor of upholding the same-sex marriage law.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Good afternoon.

KEYES: Democratic Maryland House Delegate Heather Mizeur fought hard for this legislation. She married her partner in this state in 2005, though the union isn't legally recognized. She told a panel here that families like hers are just seeking the same protections that male-female spouses have.

DELEGATE HEATHER MIZEUR: When you get to the hospital, can you make medical decisions on each other's behalf? If you're to die, can you claim the body for burial?

KEYES: Under current Maryland law, domestic partners can do those things, but same-sex marriage advocates note that such benefits are sometimes arbitrarily denied. The same-sex marriage law will also affect issues ranging from estate planning to health insurance to inheritance taxes. Over at the Baltimore headquarters of Marylanders for Marriage Equality, people were putting lawn signs together for distribution. Campaign manager Josh Levin says this measure guarantees same-sex couples equal protections under the law without infringing on the rights of those who don't support same-sex marriage, including churches.

JOSH LEVIN: The law explicitly says and the ballot language says no clergy will be forced to perform any marriage that they don't agree with, that every faith continues to control its own doctrine, and make sure they have full control over what happens in their church.

KEYES: Both sides have aggressive get-out-the-vote efforts under way, and they're spending millions in TV ad buys. Allison Keyes, NPR News.

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