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activists build church support for same-sex marriage

activists build church support for same-sex marriage

Plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging Maryland's ban on same-sex marriage are working to rally more clergy to their cause ahead of an August 30 hearing in the case, supporters said Wednesday. Aiming to counter a perception that religious groups oppose legalizing same-sex civil unions, two of the 19 plaintiffs spoke to about 50 Frederick-area clergy and laypeople at a meeting organized by the American Civil Liberties Union and Equality Maryland, a gay rights group. "Equality is going to happen," said John Lestitian of Hagerstown, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed in Baltimore circuit court in July 2004. "It needs to happen now, and we all need to be vocal about it."

The meeting, attended largely by people who favor same-sex marriage, was held at the Evangelical Reformed United Church of Christ in downtown Frederick. Dan Furmansky, Equality Maryland's executive director, said similar events may be held on the Eastern Shore and southern Maryland to invite church leaders to join a rally in Baltimore on August 29, the eve of the court hearing.

In February, 28 religious groups and 48 spiritual leaders from Maryland signed a document supporting same-sex civil marriages. "The religious community does not speak with one voice on this issue, much to contrary belief," said Meredith Curtis, public education director for the Maryland ACLU.

Douglas Stiegler, who heads two groups opposed to same-sex marriage, the Family Protection Lobby and the Association of Maryland Families, said that while some churches may support marriage equality for gays, "the Bible-believing religious community doesn't hold that feeling." He said more than 350 Maryland churches have joined the opposition, which also plans to publicize its position as the court date approaches. "There will be some response, whether it's a press release, a press conference, or actual rally--there will be something," Stiegler said.

Earlier this year Gov. Robert Ehrlich vetoed two bills that would have expanded domestic-partnership rights for same-sex partners. One would have allowed gay and straight partners to make medical decisions for each other. The other would have granted a transfer-tax exemption to gay couples who make their partners co-owners of property. Furmansky said Equality Maryland hopes legislators override those vetoes in January. He said the group also will collect signatures this fall on a letter opposing a state constitutional amendment that would define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. That definition currently is contained in a state law dating to 1973.

Republican state senator Alex X. Mooney, a leading opponent of what he calls special rights for gays, said the push for a constitutional amendment would continue despite the measure's failure in the last general assembly. "Those who want to destroy and redefine marriage to be between two men and two women are going to keep pushing their agenda, so we have to be ready with our legislation," Mooney said. (AP)

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