ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- Lawmakers in two East Coast blue states are pushing to legalize gay marriage. Rhode Island is one. The other is Maryland -- next-door neighbor to Washington D.C., where the practice was legalized last year.
Senators and delegates at the statehouse in Annapolis have already introduced twin bills to legalize gay marriage. It appears they have enough votes to pass them.
"There's a lot of momentum for marriage equality," Del. Ben Barnes, D-Maryland Dist. 21, told CBN News. "And I think it's good because it's a fundamental issue of equality and rights."
"They're going to continue to argue that this is all about rights," Del. Don Dwyer, R-Maryland Dist. 31, said. Dwyer is the main opponent of the legislators who want to legalize gay marriage.
Dwyer believes his opponents probably could have won civil unions for same-sex couples, but have overplayed their hand by going for full-fledged marriage for gays.
"When you cross the line on the term 'marriage,' all of a sudden it's a new game," he explained.
Dwyer and other conservative activists said Marylanders will turn it down in a referendum if the legislature legalizes it.
"If we gather roughly 55,000 signatures, then any bill that's passed goes to the people and they have the chance to overturn it," National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown said.
Not 'Blue' on Gay Marriage?
Even though Maryland is sometimes called "the bluest of blue states," social conservatives think enough Marylanders will trend red on social issues and will toss out gay marriage if their lawmakers legalize it.
Derek McCoy, president of the Association for Maryland Families, said he believes the cards could be stacked against gay marriage.
"When you have such a strong contingency of Catholics, a strong contingency of African-Americans, and even Hispanics and others who are very concerned about the issue," he said of the voting groups that traditionally oppose it.
"Maryland has a significant African-American population," Brown explained. "And the African-American community overwhelmingly opposes same-sex marriage."
Pastor Rick Bowers, a director of the Christian Impact Alliance, a leading group in the fight against same-sex marriage, said the lawmakers in Annapolis do not represent everyone's opinion in the state.
"The group of legislators down here who are proponents of same-sex marriage do not represent the overall majority of Marylanders."
But Bowers warned that the majority could lose unless concerned citizens make the effort to contact groups like his to help gather the necessary 55,000 signatures for the ballot measure. They then need to spread the message to help get out the vote for traditional marriage.
"We need to make sure the Christians don't sit home with their value vote in their pocket," Bowers said.
Gay Marriage = Religious Freedom?
You don't often find those promoting gay marriage talking about religion. But in the Maryland debate, there's an argument that gay marriage is in fact a matter of religious freedom.
Delegate Barnes pointed out that the bills to legalize gay marriage explicitly allow churches the right to opt out of performing same-sex marriages.
"But it also gives my church the right to marry who they want," Barnes said. "So in a way, this is a religious freedom issue. If a religion wants to marry someone, a same-sex couple, they now have the ability. And government now recognizes it and gives those rights, those rights given by government."
However, conservative activists whom CBN News interviewed, warned that where homosexuals win marriage, they and their allies then begin a propaganda war against their opponents.
Brown said these gay activists charge, "That those of us who believe that the union of a man and a woman is what a marriage is -- are the equivalent of racists."
"Whatever is codified as law in this state, that's what's going to be taught in every school system, every structure," McCoy warned.
"Your children will be taught that you are a bigot. They will be taught about same-sex marriage. This has already happened in every jurisdiction that has passed same-sex marriage," Brown added.
Churches Urged to Get Involved
Bowers explained church leaders have to jump into the fray immediately.
"The pastors of the local churches need to engage with this issue at this time," he said.
Bowers said he believes that far too often those who believe in traditional values lose to liberals because they don't speak out, fight, and vote.
"And I think we've made a huge mistake as Christians," Bowers said. "And we've let down our society."
But Del. Barnes argues conservative Christians shouldn't stand in the way of gay marriage.
"No matter your conception of marriage or God, it can't be denied that there a bundle of civil rights tied to marriage. And those rights weren't bestowed by God," Barnes said.
"I mean, these are pension benefits. Rights to visit your loved one in the hospital. These are rights given by government," he explained. "And when government gives rights and responsibilities, we have a duty to do so without partiality and prejudice."
Del. Dwyer begs to differ with his Democratic colleague.
"There is no compromise," Dwyer insisted. "Either we're going to keep marriage between a man and a woman or we're going to give marriage over to same-sex individuals. And the stage is set. I'm ready for the fight."
For those in the statehouse in Annapolis trying to legalize same-sex marriage, they say in the name of equality, it's what the people need.
But opponents say, put it up for a vote in the general population, you'll find out it's not what the people want.