Maryland’s Same-Sex Marriage Bill Strikes Important Balance On Religious Conscience Protections

Maryland Senator Jamie Raskin (D) highlighted the additional conscience protections included in Gov. Martin O’Malley’s (D) same-sex marriage bill while testifying before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee this afternoon. “The challenge with this legislation is to reconcile our fundamental values of equal rights for all people with religious pluralism and toleration,” Raskin explained, noting that O’Malley’s legislation allows the legislature to decide who can marry in city hall, “but the church gets to decide who gets married in the church hall.”

As a result, church sponsored and operated facilites or social service entities are not required to “lend any of its accommodations, programs, or services for the purpose of promoting a marriage it disapproves of for religious reasons.” Private individuals and businesses who provide public accommodations are a different matter, however. Responding to a question from Sen. Christopher B. Shank (R) about extending the bill’s conscience provisions to include event hall operators or motel owners who object to same-sex marriage, Raskin pointed out that existing laws already prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and warned that any further widening of the clause would erode existing protections:

RASKIN: If you set yourself out as a place of public accommodation, you’re open to the public. In any event, we’ve already driven over that bridge that you’re suggesting when we enacted legislation back in 2001 extending the public accommodation law to cover sexual orientation. So this nothing new. We already have laws that ban discrimination against gay people in the state and in a certain way we’re just extending that to the institution of marriage here. So it would be ironic if we used this legislation as an opportunity to roll back protections that gay people have to be served in restaurants, hotels, motels and other places of public accommodation.

Listen to the exchange: