Maryland Lawmakers To Insist On ‘Religious Exemptions’ Before Voting For Marriage Equality

As Maryland lawmakers consider legislation expanding marriage equality to gays and lesbians this session, some on-the-fence Democrats will introduce language to exempt religious institutions from performing same-sex marriages and allow those organizations to deny services to same-sex couples:

One person in that category is Del. John Olszewski, a Baltimore County Democrat who expressed concerns about the legislation last session but has left the door open to voting yes. He said his main concern is how the law would impact churches, mosques and synagogues whose members abhor same-sex marriages. “We have to be crystal clear on the religious exemptions,” Olszewski said in a recent interview.

Olszewski is looking for protections beyond simply letting religious institutions bar the ceremonies. He said the law could, for instance, make clear that religious organizations would not have to rent a house to a same-sex couple. “If Maryland is going to move forward, it is very important that appropriate religious safeguards are included,” he said.

Recall that New York legislators secured similar protections before approving the state’s marriage equality measure in June. That law — which was widely praised as fair by the same-sex marriage coalition — states that religious entities “shall not be required to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges for the solemnization or celebration of a marriage.” “Any such refusal to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges shall not create any civil claim or cause of action or result in any state or local government action to penalize, withhold benefits, or discriminate against such religious corporation, benevolent order, a not-for-profit explanation.”