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The opening salvos in the fight over same-sex marriage took place in a packed Senate committee hearing Tuesday. Governor Martin O'Malley was the first to speak at the hearing before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. He himself is sponsoring the bill to legalize same-sex marriage this year in hopes that will get it passed.
"It's not right, and it is not just, that the children of gay couple should have lesser protections than the children of other families in our state," says O'Malley.
But when Republican Senator Nancy Jacobs started questioning the governor, it was over what another O'Malley said. Last week, the governor's wife Judge Katie O'Malley called those who stopped the measure last year "cowards," words she has since apologized for. When pressed by Jacobs, Governor O'Malley said those who are against same-sex marriage are just as entitled to their opinion.
"They certainly have that right," said O'Malley. "We are a free people. And whether we want to recognize or not, we live in a religiously pluralistic state."
Derrick McCoy is with the Maryland Marriage Alliance, which opposes the bill. He sported a "Proud Coward" button at the hearing, in support of those who are against the measure.
"They are courageous people," says McCoy. "They are not cowards. I think it was a very disingenuous and disrespectful comment. And even the governor's attempt to correct some of those words, in saying that some people speak out in harm when they feel an injustice is being done, I think we think in the same way, injustice is being done in this process."
McCoy believes changes made to the bill do not protect churches from being forced to perform same-sex marriages if they are against them. Democratic senator Jamie Raskin of Montgomery County disagrees. During the hearing, he was pressed on whether businesses, such as banquet halls that are against same-sex marriages, can have similar protections.
"We enacted legislation back in 2001 extending the public accommodations law to cover sexual orientation," says Raskin. "So this is nothing new. We already have laws that ban discrimination against gay people in the state."
To openly gay senator Richard Madaleno of Montgomery County, the bill is all about encouraging families.
"I don't know why people fall in love," says Madaleno. "I don't know why I fell in love with Mark Hodge as opposed to someone else, but I have. And together he and I have formed a family. A family that now includes children."
The bill did pass the Senate narrowly last year...but was stopped in the House.
A recent poll shows that half of Marylanders support gay marriage, more than previous polls.