ANNAPOLIS, MARYLAND — Same-sex marriage is not recognized in most U.S. jurisdictions or by the federal government, but voters in four states will have a chance to weigh in on the same sex marriage issue in November. Maryland could be among the first states in the nation to legalize civil marriage for gays and lesbians by a popular vote.
DeRionne Pollard and Robyn Jones are raising their six-year-old son Myles like other families in a loving home environment. They have been a couple for 23 years and wed in California three years ago, before the state voted to ban same sex marriage.
Now living in Maryland, they hope voters in November will approve a law that grants civil-marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. Pollard and Jones want the same legal rights as other married couples.
"It gives us some stability some legal protection. If she dies or if I die, I can be able to attend to her affairs and she can attend to my affairs. We do not have to jump through hoops to go through something we have built together for 23 years," said Jones.
Popular vote will decide
Four states [Maryland, Maine, Minnesota and Washington state] have same-sex marriage questions on the ballot in November. In Maryland, a state with deep religious roots, battle lines have been drawn.
"We believe that a movement, a righteousness and justice movement will rise up in America and draw a line in the sand that says marriage must be protected," said Bishop Harry Jackson of Hope Christian Church.
Some of the strongest opposition to same-sex marriage in Maryland has come from African-American ministers and family advocacy groups. Derek McCoy heads one that opposes the law.
"It is about the simple redefinition of marriage as we know it. And we believe that marriage is defined between one man and woman in itself," said McCoy. "And secondly, this is about religious freedom and our ability to speak out in a public square, and we have already seen that inhibited in other countries, especially our northern country Canada."
Conflict between gays, church
Pollard says she is troubled by the level of opposition to gay marriage by some local black ministers.
"I do not think that whoever you choose to worship to, God or Allah, whatever it is going to be, that at the end that is going to be the question about who you chose to love, who you chose to make a family with," said Pollard.
Maryland's marriage equality law would reserve the right of clergy to refuse to perform a gay marriage based on their religious belief.
"We want to make sure that every family has a chance to have equality under law," said Rich Madaleno, one of eight openly gay Maryland legislators who approved the same-sex marriage law for the referendum.
"We have a long history in this country of having a separate and unequal treatment of our fellow citizens, and I worry if this [law] does not pass we are going to be returning to that sort of past," he said.
Opponents of the same-sex marriage law in Maryland point out that every time the issue has been put before voters in other states, it has failed to win approval. Gay-rights activists remain optimistic, however, saying attitudes are changing and support for legalizing same-sex marriage is growing.