Maryland’s General Assembly held a public hearing Tuesday on whether to legalize same-sex marriage.
About 150 witnesses on both sides of the issue attended the hearing before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, NBC Washington's Chris Gordon reported. Same-sex families, clergy and legal experts were at the meeting to speak out in favor of same-sex marriage, while the Maryland Catholic Conference and other religious groups vehemently opposed it.
The Religious Freedom and Marriage Protection Act, started by Senate Majority Leader Rob Garagiola (D-Montgomery), would remove a provision in Maryland law limiting marriages to those between a man and a woman. Garagiola said it is a matter of civil rights, Gordon reported.
"Same-sex couples don't have the same rights straight couples enjoy," Garagiola said.
Equality Maryland is mobilizing to support the bill for people like Irene Huskins, a police captain, who told Gordon, "I hope Maryland is enlightened and does the right thing."
Opponents of same-sex marriage are giving no ground in the fight.
"Marriage is a public insitution," said Peter Sprigg, of the Family Research Council. "It keeps couples together for the purpose of raising children."
"Marriage has always been between a man and a woman," said Rene Joseph, a minister with Quinn Chapel A.M.E Church in Frederick, Md. "Any other way is not correct."
It’s expected to be a tight vote, as supporters need 29 of the Senate’s 47 lawmakers to break a filibuster and 24 votes to bring the measure to the House floor.
Supporters of the same-sex marraige bill believe they have enough votes in the Maryland Senate to get it passed, but opponents may try to filibuster or peititon for a public vote in a referendum in the next election, Gordon reported.
Maine had legalized same-sex marriage, but it was reversed in a referendum vote in November 2009.
This debate is one of the most hotly contested issues that will take place during this legislative session.
Right now, five states and D.C. have legalized same-sex marriage.