By The Associated Press
7:58 PM EST, February 25, 2011
The debate to legalize same-sex marriage in Maryland shifted to the House of Delegates Friday, a day after senators approved the measure.
The six openly gay members of the House asked the House Judiciary Committee to grant same-sex couples the same rights heterosexual couples have.
"This debate is not about abstractions, this debate is not about definition, it's about the thousands of families who will be protected by this law," said Del. Heather Mizeur, D-Montgomery, as she motioned to her spouse, Deborah Mizeur, who was sitting in the audience at the hearing.
The Mizeurs, who run a healthcare lobbying firm in Washington, were married in California in 2008.
Maryland senators voted 25-21 in favor to legalize same-sex marriage Thursday night. The measure will now face a vote by the House Judiciary Committee and must survive a vote by the full House.
If supporters clear those hurdles, Gov. Martin O'Malley has said he would sign the bill into law, which could make Maryland the sixth state to legalize gay marriage.
Supporters have 68 to 69 votes in the House counted in their favor, just shy of the 71-vote threshold they must meet, said Del. Keiffer Mitchell, D-Baltimore, one of the bill's co-sponsors.
While senators added in protections for religious groups and institutions to keep them from being forced to cater, photograph or otherwise provide services for gay weddings, state religious leaders said the compromises are not enough.
"There is a principle that both religion and government have recognized when talking about marriage, and redefining marriage throws that principle out the window," said Mary Ellen Russell, executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference.
Del. Don Dwyer, R-Anne Arundel, coordinated much of the opposition to the bill Friday.
Dwyer has filed a separate measure that would amend Maryland's constitution to limit marriage to between one man and one woman. His proposal, which would go a step above the law in place, would also need to be approved by voters in 2012.
Supporters and opponents debated the relation between religion and government throughout the hearing. Attorney General Douglas Gansler, a Democrat, said while he was not a biblical scholar he was certain the Bible does not talk about gay marriage directly.
Gansler wrote in an opinion last year that Maryland would honor same-sex marriages performed out of state.
A panel of formerly gay leaders, representing groups which convert people from homosexuality to heterosexuality, called the bill the work of a "sexual minority" imposing its will on the population.
Anthony Falzarano, national director of the Parents and Friends Ministries, said he spent nine years as a gay man before becoming heterosexual with God's help.
Falzarano said gay activists have been "undermining the moral standards of the United States."
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