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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Anti-Gay Testimony Backfires, Garners Same-Sex Families A New Supporter in MD

James Brochin
James Brochin

By Kilian Melloy -
A former foe of marriage equality has had a Road to Damascus moment and become a family parity supporter, thanks to the vilification of gays that anti-equality advocates expressed during a Feb. 8 hearing on a bill that would extend full legal equality to Maryland’s same-sex families.

State Sen. James Brochin characterized the testimony he and other members of a senate committee heard from the anti-gay side as "hate and venom." The lawmaker added that he was "appalled and disgusted" by the way that gays and lesbians and their families were derided during the course of seven hours of public testimony on the bill, reported a Feb. 10 Examiner article.

The claims made about GLBTs during the hearing were part and parcel of the standard anti-gay rhetoric, but in this case it backfired. Brochin had formerly been opposed to granting Maryland’s gay and lesbian families equal state-level marriage rights, but, he told The Advocate, the scales fell from his eyes as he heard how GLBTs were described by those who came to testify against them.

"What I witnessed from the opponents of the bill was appalling," Brochin recounted. "Witness after witness demonized homosexuals, vilified the gay community, and described gays and lesbians as pedophiles.

"I believe that sexual orientation is not a choice, but rather people are born one way or another," Brochin continued. "The proponents of the [marriage equality] bill were straightforward in wanting to be simply treated as everyone else, and wanted to stop being treated as second-class citizens."

Public acceptance of gays--and support for their quest to secure family rights in the form of legally recognized unions--continues to increase as gays emerge from the closet and the heterosexual majority realizes that GLBTs are their own relatives, friends, and colleagues. As the aura of strangeness that anti-gay propaganda once cloaked GLBTs in fades, the normalcy of gay individuals, and gay family life, becomes more evident.

That is a fact not lost even on those among Maryland’s lawmakers who remain opposed to family parity for gays and lesbians. Senate President Thomas "Mike" Miller--who does not support marriage equality himself--predicted that the measure would clear the chamber. Miller also pointed to recent gains made by GLBT Americans, including a Congressional vote late last year to rescind the ban on openly gay and lesbian patriots serving in the Armed Forces. "This is a national trend, this is not a state of Maryland trend," said Miller, who also reckoned that the question is "a generational issue." Younger voters tend to favor GLBT legal and social equality.

"For me, the transition to supporting marriage has not been an easy one, but the uncertainty, fear, and second-class status that gays and lesbians have to put up with is far worse and clearly must come to an end," Brochin told The Advocate.

Maryland lawmakers have considered such legislation before, though to no avail, as an earlier EDGE article reported. The bill currently before the Senate committee is co-sponsored by openly gay Sen. Rich Madaleno.

Opposition to the bill mostly came from religious organizations, including the Alliance Defense Fund, an anti-gay, faith-based group. A lawyer with the ADF, Austin R. Nimocks, testified that the bill does not offer enough protections to churches and clergy who oppose gay and lesbian families due to their beliefs.

Nimocks also suggested that granting legal parity to gay and lesbian families would harm children, saying, "The state of Maryland increases the chances that children will be raised in a stable family unit by a mother and father responsible for bringing them into this world" under existing law, which currently denies protections and rights to same-sex families.

Anti-gay group the National Organization for Marriage, which was a key player in the bitterly divisive campaign to pass Proposition 8 in California, also spoke against the measure. The group’s former president (now Board Chair) Maggie Gallagher told the committee, "The reason that marriage is a virtually universal human social institution that reoccurs again and again in different cultures, and different religious backgrounds, is that humanity recognizes that we need a special institution to bring together a male and female to make and raise the next generation." Gallagher went on to claim, "To get to gay marriage requires that we repudiate this as a public purpose of marriage."

If marriage equality is granted to same-sex couples in Maryland, Gallagher told the Associated Press in a Feb. 9 article, she anticipates that a voter referendum will kill the new law, as happened in Maine in 2009, when voters repealed a family parity measure before it could take effect.

But if younger Americans continue to support equality measures for gays and lesbians, the trend might eventually reverse the tidal wave of anti-gay constitutional amendments that have locked same-sex families out of legal wedlock in 30 states. The acid test might be the result of legislative attempts in North Carolina, Indiana, and Wyoming to amend the constitutions of those states such that same-sex families are punished with legal exclusion. NOM is pushing to help anti-gay lawmakers in those states get the amendments before voters, but there is some hope that such measures will eventually start to fail at the ballot box--and may one day even be reversed.

Brochin’s reaction may be an early indication that the cultural currents are starting to shift away from a preconception of gays are somehow abnormal or unnatural, long-ingrained ideas that have made it easy for virulent anti-gay rhetoric to flourish.

Equality advocates saw the seeds of such wider change in Brochin’s personal disgust at how GLBTs were defamed during the public testimony. "Equality Maryland is proud of Sen. Brochin’s declaration of support of civil marriage for gay and lesbian couples," said Morgan Meneses-Sheets, who heads the group. "His recent change of heart proves that when people have the facts, and hear the real life stories from loving and committed couples, hearts and minds can and do change.

"We welcome Sen. Brochin to the growing coalition of elected officials from both sides of the aisle who have come to understand that ensuring equal treatment under the law is good public policy." Added Meneses-Sheets, "There is no substitute for equality--and only civil marriage can confer the respect, protection and responsibility to same-sex couples in the same manner that it is conferred to opposite-sex couples."

The Maryland Catholic Conference’s Mary Ellen Russell told the media that the vilification of gays the State Senate committee heard was "unfortunate," reported the Baltimore Sun in a Feb. 10 article. "They do not speak for the majority of us," Russell said of those who offered the vitriolic testimony that offended Brochin.

The Catholic Church teaches that gays and lesbians do not "choose" to be sexually and romantically attracted to individuals of the same gender, and says that sexual minorities need to be treated with respect and dignity. However, the Church also holds that gays and lesbians do not have a right to form families of their own, and teaches that God expects them to lead celibate lives. The Church has also asserted that gays are "disordered" individuals whose sexual expressions of affection for others of the same sex are "inherently evil."

Brochin initially had hoped to replace the marriage equality bill with a civil unions bill, the Baltimore Sun reported, but the committee’s members do not support that. Brochin will therefore support full state-level marriage rights. (Federal rights remain out of reach for America’s gay and lesbian family due to an anti-gay 1996 federal law, the "Defense of Marriage" Act.) "I’m not going to be a part of the vilification of gays on the senate floor" by voting against the marriage bill, Brochin said.

"I’ve always thought that everyone should have the same rights," the state senator added.

Kilian Melloy reviews media, conducts interviews, and writes commentary for EDGEBoston, where he also serves as Assistant Arts Editor.


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