The House committee hearing on whether to allow same-sex couples to marry opened this afternoon with testimony from bill sponsors, openly gay legislators and other supporters.
"This is not about abstractions," said Del. Heather Mizeur, as she introduced her wife, Deborah. "This is not about definitions."
The two married in 2008 in California, yet, the Montgomery County Democrat said, "right now we are legal strangers to each other."
After an hour, the committee switched to opponents and will continue to alternate as it makes its way through dozens of scheduled witnesses today. The audience has spilled over into a second viewing room.
Pastors, lawyers and the chairwoman of the National Organization for Marriage were among the opponents to testify this afternoon. "Most of my adult relationships are untouched by the law," said Maggie Gallagher, chairwoman of the National Organization for Marriage. Of heterosexual marriage, she said, "these are the only unions that create new life."
Chairman Joseph Vallario, a Prince George's County Democrat, kicked off the hearing by saying his House Judiciary Committee would likely vote on the measure early next week. It is expected to clear the committee; a majority of members are co-sponsors.
The House testimony comes a day after the Senate voted 25-21 to approve legislation that would end Maryland's 38-year-old definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman. The measure's fate on the House floor remains a mystery, as the larger chamber appears about evenly split.
Del. Luiz Simmons, a Montgomery County Democrat supportive of same-sex marriage, delivered spicy testimony, poking fun at Eastern Shore Republicans and saying he'd reviewed the witness list and found that "God has not signed up either for or against" the legislation. Same-sex marriage opponents in the audience booed.
Del. Keiffer Mitchell said the state should continue its 400-year tradition of tolerance. He urged lawmakers to focus on the separation of church and state. "We don't make laws solely based on religious doctrine," said the Baltimore Democrat.
Del. Don Dwyer Jr., an Anne Arundel County Republican who has called himself "the face of the opposition" began his testimony with a prayer. He implored legislators to look to their faith.
"Look deep into your soul for the answer," he said.
Testimony is expected to continue for hours.
Update 3/1 - Some unanticipated dissent in the bills supporter's ranks...