Saturday, January 21, 2006

Marriage in Maryland

A court ruling may leave it up to Maryland politicians to decide whether marriage can have any legal definition. The Washington Times reports:

A Circuit Court judge yesterday ruled that Maryland's 33-year-old ban on same-sex "marriage" is unconstitutional.

In issuing her ruling, Judge M. Brooke Murdock imposed a stay on it pending an anticipated appeal -- and preventing a rush to the altar by homosexual couples...

The law defining marriage as a union of a man and a woman violates the state constitution's Equal Rights Amendment, which guarantees "equality of rights under the law shall not be abridged or denied because of sex," the judge said.

The Maryland Attorney General's Office yesterday appealed the decision to the Court of Special Appeals. The case appears destined for the Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, and possibly the U.S. Supreme Court...

The state's position is that marriage is not a fundamental right but a privilege and that the 1973 law does not discriminate based on sex because both men and women are prohibited from entering into same-sex "marriage."

Democrats may be left without a reasonable excuse to oppose a state constitutional amendment defining marriage:

Judge Murdock's ruling has fueled a drive by conservative state lawmakers to pass a constitutional amendment that would ban homosexual "marriage."

Democratic leaders had cited the 1973 law in defending their opposition to the amendment, which would have to be ratified by voters.

"It is a sad day for Maryland, and I can assure you there will be legislative consequences," said Delegate Don Dwyer Jr., an Anne Arundel Republican leading the constitutional amendment effort.

"The majority party has been steadfast in blocking my every attempt to get a vote on a constitutional amendment," he said. "They don't want their members spotlighted on voting against marriage.

Democratic leaders also may resist putting a marriage amendment on the ballot this election year because it could energize conservative voters and help Republican candidates, including Mr. Ehrlich in his re-election bid and Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele in his run for the U.S. Senate.

If there is no ballot initiative, I would like to see Maryland Republicans unite on the issue and promise one. Democrats that are too spineless to act and too partisan to support bipartisan movements don't deserve to be in office.

The Washington Post adds:

Even before the ruling yesterday, House Democrats took steps to try to prevent a constitutional ban from reaching a vote on the floor. House leaders made a technical change in procedural rules Thursday, over the objections of Republicans. Residual resentment from that move spilled into yesterday's floor session.

Minority Whip Anthony J. O'Donnell (R-Calvert) admonished his Democratic colleagues for what he said was an attempt to shield them from casting a tough vote in an election year. "We should not fear having a debate," he said...

Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery), who chairs the Senate committee that would have to approve an amendment for it to advance, said he saw no reason to act before the Court of Appeals has ruled. "One Circuit Court judge's opinion is not cause for amending the constitution," Frosh said.

Actually, it is a perfect cause. Instead of ceding their power to the courts, Maryland's elected leaders should take the lead, defend Maryland law, and preclude a Massachusetts-style constitutional crisis.

For commentary on the federal definition of marriage, check out Defining Marriage.

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