[Last week], the House of Delegates considered the Civil Marriage Protection Act, legislation that would grant same-sex couples access to a Maryland marriage certificate. I voted for this legislation, and wanted to take the time to explain why.
First, I would like to say that I am proud to be a Christian, and that my faith is important to me. As such, I have always tried to strike a balance between providing equal rights under the law and ensuring that religious freedoms remain wholly intact.
While members of my United Methodist church—and many communities—disagree over the issue of marriage equality, I could find no compelling reason to deny other individuals access to the same rights and responsibilities that are given to me and my wife by the state.
These are the same rights that the state continues to explicitly protect and provide to murderers and rapists. These are rights that are also given to non-believers and—despite warnings against it in Scripture—to those who have divorced and want to remarry.
How can we justify doing that as we deny these same basic rights to the business owners, police officers, and teachers that serve our community?
While I had favored civil unions as a way to convey these rights, I was surprised to see that even colleagues who professed to share this view acted to prevent exactly that—a civil union amendment failed, with 15 members of the House of Delegates choosing to not even cast a vote.
Due in large part to my efforts, the marriage legislation has some of the strongest religious protection language in the country. Churches and religious organizations are not required to perform marriages that contradict their beliefs, or provide services or accommodations that promote or celebrate a marriage that they do not believe in.
In fact, if anything, the legislation expands protections for people of faith relative to marriage and their sincerely held religious beliefs. These protections continue to allow faith communities to decide for themselves what is right or wrong relative to marriage – whatever the circumstance.
To go another day denying equal civil, state-sponsored rights to all Marylanders is wrong.
As with any other legislation considered by the General Assembly, residents have the option to petition the civil marriage law to the ballot for review by all voters.
I fully expect that to be the case with this law—and trust that the debate leading up to the 2012 vote will be robust yet respectful. There were good people on both sides of this issue in the Maryland General Assembly, just as I know there are good people on both sides of this issue within our communities.
In the meantime, the work of the state legislature continues—and where I will continue fighting to keep our environment clean, our schools funded, and our taxes low.
Note: Del. John Olzewski Jr. represents the Sixth District, which includes Dundalk and Essex.