By Shannon Baker, BCM/D National Correspondent
ANNAPOLIS, Md.—Momentum is gaining for the legalization of same sex “marriage” in the state of Maryland, causing church leaders to take action.
Three Baptist pastors, Reynold Carr, Nathaniel Thomas, and Victor Kirk, expressed their opposition during a Feb. 8 hearing when lawmakers presented Senate Bill 116, entitled “The Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act,” in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. (Senate Bill 116)
The bill, which is expected to receive a favorable vote out of committee, seeks to amend a Maryland statute in the Family Law Article, Title 2, Section 2-201, which replaces “Only a marriage between a man and a woman is valid in this State” with “Only a marriage between TWO INDIVIDUALS WHO ARE NOT OTHERWISE PROHIBITED FROM MARRYING is valid in this State.”
The bill changes the current family code and law to alter the definition of marriage, thereby ushering in same sex “marriage” in Maryland if passed.
Under this bill, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Rob Garagiola and signed by 17 other senators, same sex couples could be married in a civil ceremony, or in a religious ceremony if the clergy member agrees to perform the marriage ceremony.
Twenty-four votes are needed to pass the senate.
In what many consider language to win conservatives, a second part of the bill states that that “an official of a religious institution or body authorized to solemnize marriages may not be required solemnize any marriage in violation of the right to free exercise of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and by the Maryland Constitution and Maryland Declaration of Rights.”
In other words, the proposal does not require churches or synagogues to perform same-sex nuptials. Opponents of the bill quickly point out that the added language only “protects” freedoms already guaranteed by the Maryland and United States Constitution, rendering its protective language meaningless.
Other opponents expressed concern that businesses, such as florists and caterers, fear being forced to serve same sex couples “against their conscience.”
The proposed Senate Bill 116 seeks to take effect October 1, 2011.
There is an identical set of bills introduced in the House of Delegates, House Bills 55 & 175, which will be heard in the House Judiciary Committee on Feb. 25 at 1:00 p.m. Favorable reports from this committee and passage in the full House is expected.
Accordingly, the Christian Life and Public Affairs Committee of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware urges church leaders and their congregations also to take action, including praying for God’s standard for marriage to be upheld, displaying Christian love to all involved, and contacting Maryland State Senators to express their points of view.
Many people had already gathered for the Senate hearing on Feb. 8, causing the overflow room to overflow. Over 140 witnesses, both for and against the proposed statute, presented over six hours of testimony.
Those in favor of the bill pointed to financial benefits from in-state same sex weddings; spoke out against the lack of health care and other benefits for same sex couples; and compared the “inequality” to racial discrimination, pointing to the overturning of laws that used to prohibit interracial marriages.
Those opposing shared that marriage was God’s institution and shouldn’t be redefined.
Carr, director of missions for the Prince George’s Association, said that God established the institution of marriage by “being the first ‘Father of the bride’ when he brought the woman (Eve) to the man (Adam)… [and] God said that it was good!”
He acknowledged that today, many of come to “redefine, change, and neutralize what God has called good, because we believe that we know better.” In a tone of warning, he added, “We are placing ourselves on the throne of God and declaring that God was wrong when He established this institution.”
The Baptist leader also noted that “history is littered with the remains of individuals and nations who felt that they had a better plan, a better way by creating laws, rules, denominations, and gods that run contrary to the divine order.”
He expressed concern that when the institution of marriage has been corrupted, redefined, and changed, chaos will develop.
Kirk, pastor of the Sharon Bible Fellowship in Lanham, in opposing the bill, asked, “If this bill passes, what’s next? What if a father wanted to marry his daughter? Or two brothers or two sisters want to marry? This is illegal today but under this type of legislation to say no would then be gender discrimination.”
Warning against the “slippery slope,” he added, “This can go anywhere once the line of demarcation is removed. If you think not, just look back 20 years ago. None of what is happening today would even be considered. Now think 20 years in the future if we do allow this type of marriage to be legal.”
Thomas, sharing that he represented the Prince George’s Association, the BCM/D and the Southern Baptist Convention, said that though this issue has been lobbied well by proponents of the bill, there is a “sleeping giant” of churches who do not support the legislation.
Arguing that the proposed bill attempts to define “who is a man” and “what is a true family,” he said, “There’s already a lot of confusion out there, and we’re about to multiply the confusion.”
He urged his listeners to understand that the word marriage “goes deep into our theology” and that is why the bill is being opposed.
Because it is expected that the Senate will vote on this bill within the next TEN days and stands to be a VERY CLOSE vote, immediate action is needed.
Specifically, BCM/D’s Christian Life & Public Affairs Committee urges the following action: (BCM/D CLPA Call to Action)
• Be in prayer that God’s will and His standard on the institution of marriage, as the union between a man and a woman, be upheld.
• Calling to mind that God loves all of His Creation and “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” – let us demonstrate the character of God by displaying His love as the Spirit continues His work of sanctification through His people. Let us guard our hearts and tongues from the forces of Satan that seek to mute and destroy our testimony.
• “We are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us…” Please contact your Maryland State Senator and express your view, in Christian love, opposing Senate Bill 116. In a separate article, you will find a list of the Maryland’s 47 State Senators and their contact information. (Maryland State Senators)
The Senators who have already signed the bill include the following: Senators Robert Garagiola, Richard Madaleno, Jamie Raskin, Bill Ferguson, Jennie Forehand, Brian Frosh, Lisa Gladden, Verna Jones–Rodwell, Delores Kelley, Nancy King, Roger Manno, Nathaniel McFadden, Karen Montgomery, Paul Pinsky, Catherine Pugh, Victor Ramirez, Ronald Young, and Bobby Zirkin.
Visit http://www.mdelect.net/electedofficials to locate contact information on your elected representatives. You can also see a more general listing by selecting “State Senate” in the box located under the subtitle “or Map a District.” Then select your “District #,” click on “Map District.”
Read Baptist Press article: “2011 could be defining moment for ‘gay marriage'”