Two Baltimore County legislators—one a Republican and one a Democrat—found themselves at a crossroads last week with regard to whether Maryland should recognize the rights of same-sex couples to be eligible for civil marriages. For both men, Del. Wade Kach and Del. John Olszewski, Jr., the issue came down to recognizing that same-sex couples should "enjoy the same protections and responsibilities that our laws provide for others," as stated by Kach.
I generally consider myself to be a political moderate, who is principally concerned with achieving a consensus that is favorable to as many individuals as possible. However, I do not believe that it is ever appropriate for thoughtful people to be willing to diminish the rights of others through their actions or inactions in the name of politics. Thus, I am deeply proud of the stand taken by both Kach and Olszewski.
Many readers who do not support this view will, I am sure, immediately seek to justify their perspective by pointing to the views espoused by their religious faith. Our founding fathers would not be supportive of the view that religion should be in a position to dictate the actions of our government. It was Thomas Jefferson who argued fervently in support of a "wall of separation between church and state." Moreover, President James Madison aptly indicated that "practical distinction between Religion and Civil Government is essential to the purity of both, and as guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States."
I believe that the Civil Marriage Protection Act upholds these principles, because it extends equal rights to same-sex couples, while also maintaining the rights of religious institutions. Olszewski correctly noted when he announced his support for this legislation that "it is not the role of the State to tell my church—or any other faith community—what its beliefs can and cannot be." In support of this view, and the convictions of Jefferson, the civil marriage bill includes strong protections for religious institutions. Specifically, the legislation states that no church would be required to participate in a marriage ceremony "that is in violation of the entity’s religious beliefs."
Contrary to what others may espouse, I do not see how my own marriage would be in any way diminished through the extension of civil marriages to same-sex couples. Individual marriages do not succeed or fail on the basis of the actions of others. They succeed or fail by virtue of how these married partners treat each other. Someone else's loving, caring relationship does not threaten my own, but rather serves as a model for the emulation of all couples.
Like Kach and Olszewski, I believe that the time has come for the recognition of marriage equality for same-sex couples. For those who disagree, I simply offer these words of caution from the Abraham Lincoln, The Great Emancipator: "Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, can not long retain it."
Is same-sex marriage a matter of civil rights or morality? Tell us in the comments.