Maryland gov signs marriage equality bill

AP

Maryland’s governor has signed a measure legalizing gay marriage. The law is scheduled to take effect in January 2013.

However, opponents are expected to petition the law to a referendum on the November ballot.

Referendum organizers need to collect almost 56,000 signatures to put the measure before voters and are expected to rely heavily on churchgoers who oppose same-sex marriage as a matter of faith, to reach that goal.

Over the weekend, some pastors were already using their sermons to shop the referendum effort to their congregations, asking members to sign up for email alerts, put their name on petitions and overturn the law come November. The Catholic Church, which has 1.2 million parishioners in Maryland, has also openly opposed the bill.

A Sunday service at the Hope Christian Church in Beltsville was filled with murmurs of agreement as a spokeswoman for the Maryland Marriage Alliance rallied the congregation against the law.

Some churchgoers said they are bound by their faith to vote against gay marriage.

“It’s a personal value and opinion. It has nothing to do with President  Barack Obama,” said 54-year-old DeBorah Martinez, who has attended Hope Christian for three years.

Six states and the District of Columbia currently recognize gay marriages. The state of Washington has also legalized gay marriage, and its law takes effect in June. Voters there are expected to petition the measure to referendum this fall.

Maine legalized the unions for same-sex couples in 2009, but later that year became the only state overturn a such a law passed by a legislature.

Meanwhile, about 30 states have constitutional amendments that seek to prohibit gay marriage, most by defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

Donald Norris, chairman of the department of public policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County said black churches could heavily influence the referendum, but liberal voters who come out to support Obama could offset the votes against same-sex marriage.

A number of factors could tip the vote on a referendum, Norris said. For example, a weak Republican presidential candidate could mean conservative voters stay home and don’t cast ballots against the law.

“It’s going to really depend upon a variety of things that are going to happen between now and November,” Norris said.

Gay marriage advocates are hoping that young voters – whom they expect to support their cause – will turn out for Obama as they did in 2008.

“I think Obama’s election turns out a number of different people,” said Sultan Shakir, campaign manager for Marylanders for Marriage Equality, a coalition of gay rights groups that worked to get the bill passed. “(There is) a lot of attention around people who attend church, but there are plenty of other demographics who are going to be turned out.”

The advocates also think it is inappropriate to leave what they consider a civil rights issue to the discretion of voters.

“It’s sad to me that anyone would think that it’s OK to put up the rights of a minority to a popular vote,” said Lisa Polyak, chairwoman of the board of directors for the gay rights organization Equality Maryland. “We have children, we have lives, we have jobs and we just want to go about them with integrity.”

Proponents of gay marriage are also counting on religious leaders who support of the bill to influence their congregations and for labor unions to urge their members to vote to keep gay marriage legal. Some black pastors who supported the measure as a matter of civil rights appeared publicly with O’Malley, a Democrat, during the legislative debate.

Babatunde Adedayo, a 29-year-old from Upper Marlboro, said the president and his stance on gay marriage will likely influence his peers in November. Obama supports civil unions, but has not endorsed marriage for same-sex couples

“I think this affects every facet of our culture,” Adedayo said after the service at Hope Christian. “As a black African American in America, it is something the black church takes seriously and depending on Barack Obama’s stance on this, it will affect a lot of people.”

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