ANNAPOLIS, Maryland - Maryland's General Assembly is halfway to making the Old Line State the sixth state in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage. However, lawmakers recently allowed Maryland citizens to make their opinions known about gay marriage possibly coming to their state.
The Senate at the Statehouse has already voted to legalize gay marriage. The House of Delegates has begun debate on the proposed measure. They began with a marathon hearing in which dozens of advocates, pro and con, testified. Many homosexuals -- delegates among them -- pleaded for their unions to be recognized.
"And while it's love that makes a family, it is marriage that protects it," said Del. Heather Muzeur, D-Montgomery County. "A state-sanctioned marriage license protects us when one of us is in the hospital or when we need health insurance or when we need to visit each other in a nursing home or make financial decisions for each other or make life and death decisions for each other."
"We've been together for 13 years," said Dr. Alvin Williams, a homosexual. "We're a very solid family. Very much into our religious beliefs that God creates people for love, and love is for everyone."
"We represent the families who this bill will impact," said Nigel Simon, who is married to Williams. "It's more than just a debate for us. It means a solidification of our family, that we're not legal strangers in the eyes of the law. And that's what we want to help people understand -- that it's more than a debate for us. It's reality."
Darrell Carrington spoke of the hundreds of rights on the line for homosexuals.
"There's about 468 individual rights in the state of Maryland that married couples are entitled and at the federal level it's over 1,100," said Carrington who represents the group Equity Maryland.
Yet, those opposing gay marriage attacked on many fronts -- especially concerning children.
"It's not discrimination to say that children deserve a mother and a father," said Daniel Hess, a Rockville resident. "That's shared in every faith viewpoint, in every culture in history."
"And marriage is between one man, one woman, becoming one flesh, blessed of God, consummated to bring children into the world," said Rosaria Wolf, a Harford County resident. "That's what marriage is. It's holy ground. And we don't touch holy ground."
A powerful testimony came from two former gays who said homosexuals don't need gay marriage, because they don't even need to be gay.
"I spent two years in recovery," said Anthony Falazarano, executive director of Parents and Friends Ministries. "I am now married for over 25 years and have two grown children. I am proof that homosexuals are not born that way."
"There are many clinical studies and individual reports of people who of their own free will have changed their sexual orientation, and I am not the only one," said Greg Quinlan, president of Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays. "This isn't 'Winnie the Pooh' and I'm not Tigger. There have been thousands of people like me who have left the homosexual lifestyle as an act of their will, as a right of self determination."
"Being set free from grip of the homosexual lifestyle was the equivalent of coming off of heroin," Falazarano explained. "But with God's help, I made it. After receiving help, I wanted to help others, and in the last 20 years I have ministered to over 600 men and women who have successfully left the homosexual lifestyle."
The state House will likely move quickly on the issue with debate on the House floor expected to come in just a matter of days.
Hundreds of people came to the House hearing, because was the last chance for folks on both sides of the issue to testify and put a human face on their feelings about gay marriage.