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At A Loss For Words Over Same-Sex Marriage

The votes to legalize same-sex marriage in Maryland aren't there this year. There may be enough to legalize civil unions, but not if they are called civil unions.

Can't call them domestic partnerships, either. Sorry.

Nope, lawmakers in Annapolis are so hinky about the topic that they can't quite bring themselves to use words that describe what they are creating: a legal construct to give gay couples the rights and benefits that marriage grants heterosexual couples.

Actually, to be more precise, make that lawmaker -- singular. As in C. Anthony Muse, chairman of the Prince George's County Senate delegation and the swing vote on the otherwise evenly split committee that will determine the fate of the same-sex marriage bill. Muse wears two hats in life, and on this issue, they put him at odds with himself.

He is the Rev. Muse, pastor of the Ark of Safety Christian Church in Upper Marlboro, where he is committed to an interpretation of the Bible in which marriage binds a man and a woman. Period. "Unequivocally, I stand for Christian marriage and have no intentions of tampering with that at all," Muse said last week on a Baltimore religious radio show.

And he is Sen. Muse, a black Democrat whose commitment to civil rights leaves him uncomfortable with a reality in which partners in gay relationships are unprotected by the state's laws on inheritance, hospital visitation and property. "What I am for is trying to find a way to make sure every citizen is protected under the law, regardless of their lifestyles," he said on the "Faith in Action" show.

How to square the two perspectives? Muse has turned to Sen. Jamie Raskin, the Montgomery County Democrat who is trying to craft a bill to grant equal rights to all partnerships. Muse says he asked Raskin "to help come up with some language that will identify that these are the persons of whom you speak. But it can't be 'civil union,' it can't be 'domestic partnership.' "

"Senator Muse is my buddy," Raskin says. "So we're willing to look for language that might work. There's no end to the variety of names we can come up with to avoid calling it gay marriage. 'Mutual beneficiaries,' 'reciprocal beneficiaries,' 'household partners,' 'household registrants.' What's in a name?"

A name is a measure of comfort and acceptance, and that, in the end, is what this perennial debate is about. The law is generally a lagging indicator of social change, which is why Raskin and Dan Furmansky, executive director of Equality Maryland, which lobbies for gay rights, think that a change in how the state sanctions relationships is inevitable.

If Muse "thinks we're going to get there without creating a statutory recognition for same-sex couples, he's horribly wrong," Furmansky says.

Raskin points to the powerful impact of having an openly gay man in the Senate for the first time. When Sen. Richard Madaleno, a Montgomery Democrat, recently asked his colleagues to support a bill redefining marriage to be "between two people" rather than "a man and a woman," he described the painful stigma that he says he and his partner face. At every turn, Madaleno said, they are reminded that although he and his partner had a church wedding seven years ago, "under Maryland's civil law, he is a legal stranger to me."

"Without marriage, instead of security, we have fear," Madaleno said. "The fear that, at the moments we are most vulnerable, afraid and alone, our state could step in and take everything away from us."

Having a colleague who can explain the law's impact "has changed the character of the discussion," Raskin says. "We're going through wrenching cultural change here, in the legislature and in society."

But Muse, while framing the issue as one of civil rights, sees efforts at changing the law to be a threat to the primacy of church teachings. "I believe God loves everyone," he said on the radio (he didn't return my calls.) "But at the same time, I need to stand for what I believe in as a Christian."

Yet Muse has left himself wriggle room. "The state legalizes a number of things that the church does not," he said, citing religious teachings against gambling and alcohol. When many of his colleagues voted to support slots, Muse stood against expanding state-sponsored gambling.

On marriage, as a minister, he sees no possible retreat. As a senator, he is scrambling for an out. Which may be why he has been calling for a statewide referendum on civil unions. "Put it to the voters," he said.

You might call that letting the people decide. Or you might call it passing the buck. But hey, what's in a name?

Join me at noon todayfor "Potomac Confidential" athttp://www.washingtonpost.com/liveonline.

By Marc Fisher |  March 6, 2008; 7:41 AM ET
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Comments

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and if Muse succeed , We want a new word of bi-racial marriages.
Maybe "household arrangements alternatives"
Words matter,
In the sixties the supreme court should have demanded a new term

Posted by: Trey | March 6, 2008 8:36 AM

I don't care what you call it; I just want to have legal protections. I want to be on my partner's health insurance without her having to pay taxes on it. I want to be able to visit her in the hospital. I want to make medical decisions for her without a ton of paperwork. I want her to inherit my IRA on the same terms (no tax) my father inherited my mother's IRA.

So I'll take the benefits by any reasonable term.

Posted by: Jessica | March 6, 2008 9:04 AM

Isn't it time that we realize that there needs to be a completely separate system for civil unions which would be what the legal system grants and marriage which would be a strictly religious union with no legal benefits? The civil union would be what determines your right to benefits. This would allow church's to make their own determination on who they permit to marry and remove religious concerns from what should be purely legal matters. If I want legal protection for my partner, it should not depend on what some religious group thinks is right, it should be based on what the constitution of US thinks is right.

Posted by: mike d | March 6, 2008 9:10 AM

Doesn't the Bible sanction polygamy?

Posted by: Anonymous | March 6, 2008 9:36 AM

Since the beginning of recorded civilization, in all societies marriage has been between a man and a woman.

That said, I support the concept of civil unions and agree with Jessica. Unmarried couples should have such rights as hospital visitation, inheritance, etc.

Posted by: Gary | March 6, 2008 9:46 AM

What is wrong with the terms "civil unions" or "domestic partnerships"? This guy is a joke. It's a straight up civil rights issue; religion has no place in politics.

Posted by: Liz | March 6, 2008 9:58 AM

You're wrong, Gary. Same-sex marriage has existed in many societies throughout history (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_same-sex_unions).
But tradition is not a valid argument against SSM anyway. Times change. Is there *any* good reason today to deny same-sex couples the right to marry?

Posted by: julia | March 6, 2008 10:24 AM

"Since the beginning of recorded civilization, in all societies marriage has been between a man and a woman."

Well, no. Marriage has been, by turns, between several men and women, between men and women of the same race, and *gasp* between people of the same gender (currently in the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada and South Africa). If you claim that straight and gay relationships should be equal but only one should be called marriage, then you are just hiding your bigotry behind a dictionary.

Posted by: jbs280 | March 6, 2008 10:27 AM

I believe in the Biblical models of marriage:

-A man purchases his wife from her family
-A man can have many wives
-A man can divorce his wife by turning her back over to her family or onto the streets

Rev. Muse is a kook and clearly reads only the portions of the Bible he wants. There's no single model of marriage in that book or in human history.

Posted by: jt | March 6, 2008 10:36 AM

"Since the beginning of recorded civilization, in all societies marriage has been between a man and a woman." - Gary

This is not true. Anthropologists have pointed this out numerous times.

"Isn't it time that we realize that there needs to be a completely separate system for civil unions which would be what the legal system grants and marriage which would be a strictly religious union with no legal benefits?"

Why? This isn't necessary.

Expanding marriage by the government to recognize SSM on the part of government does not require churches themselves recognize SSM or in any other way alter their religious doctrines with regard to the bestowment of the sacramental aspects of marriage nor the form or type of marriages that religion recognizes.

Any sacramental religious aspects of marriage continue to be preserved as the government does not now bestow the sacramental aspects of marriage as the individual churches bestow those and would continue to be bestowed in the same manner.

It is not being requested the government require or force the religions to perform SSM as a condition of being granted recognition when their representatives file with the government to be recognized as authorized to perform their sacramental ceremonies in order to have the government recognize the resulting unions as a marriage. The government currently does not impose a single sacramental doctrinal definition of marriage upon any church nor require that all religions must perform their marriage ceremonies in like manner nor recognize the same form of marriage.

Further, currently not all those recognized as legally authorized to perform marriages and have them recognized by the government or all currently performed union ceremonies are performed by clergy or incorporate religious sacramental rights in so much as marriage is allowed to be performed by Justices of the Peace, ship captains, and others duly authorized by the government.


The bind that Anthony Muse (and others) finds himself in as both a minister and a legislator is the attempt to use smoke and mirrors to disguise the desire to impose impose a single sacramental doctrinal definition of marriage into legislation in a country in which the government constitutionally is instructed not to impose such religious sacramental beliefs by the exclusion clause.

Posted by: Stefano | March 6, 2008 10:43 AM

Reverend Senator Muse is an example of the leaderless entity that is PG County. No wonder no one in their right mind would open a business there. He should read the "Creative Class".

Signed, long time entrepreneur with may gay employees and a lesbian daughter I love.

P.S. Why has O'Malley been so silent on this issue? He asked gays, their friends and families to vote for him and since being elected he's flip-flopped and then gone dead silent. Maybe another reason his poll numbers are abysmal.

Posted by: aha | March 6, 2008 10:49 AM

Religion or its tenants or beliefs should have absolutely NO SAY in lawmaking. Laws can be just b/c they conform to societal norms/needs(for instance prohibitions on murder, theft, etc.)not because they were one of the 10 commandments or are in some book. The idea that religion controls this issue (or any issue involving lawmaking) infuriates me. This country was founded on the idea of freedom of religion which includes the freedom to be free of religion.

I'm married - I did not have a religious ceremony and am in fact an atheist - but my marriage is legally recognized b/c I was allowed to pay my $50 or whatever to the state assessor for a license. No religion sanctions my marriage but its still legal.

And in fact there are religions that do sanction same sex marriages (Unitarians for one).

So, I don't understand what the big deal is. No one is saying YOU have to go out and marry someone of the same sex, they are only saying that if someone wants to they can. I just don't get why this is such a big deal...we are not a catholic country or a christian nation or any of that - its a democratic republic and it should not be held hostage by people with delusional beliefs about all powerful beings...seriously people get control of your lives.

Posted by: TT | March 6, 2008 11:48 AM

I'll accept Rev. Muse's right to impose his Christianity on CIVIL marriage laws, when he accepts the right of Orthodox Jews to use the CIVIL legal system to bar him from eating pork or shrimp.
Yes, he is a Christian, and his faith means a lot to him. Therefore, he should follow its tenets as he interprets them and as he sees fit. But I do not see why his Christian faith requires him to use the secular law to force non-Christians to obey his rules as well.
He says he stands for "Christian marriage." But marriage under the U.S. legal system is not Christian marriage, it is American civil marriage. (For one thing, American law allows divorce, which Jesus explicitly forbade.) He properly stands for what he believes in by living a Christian life and marrying in a Christian way himself. He can even try to persuade others to do so. But using the civil legal system to _force_ the rest of us to do so is off-limits.

Posted by: Katja | March 6, 2008 12:10 PM

How about calling them Unions of Sausage Worshipers or Unions of Carpet Munchers? Why can't they just execute a contract between themselves to cover what they want done? Maybe we should just put them back in the closets; we let them out now they want the world.

Posted by: Stick | March 6, 2008 12:12 PM

Soccer-stadium yesterday, gay-rights mixed with religion today, anti-gun last week. Hmmm. Somebody must have an annual performance review soon and he needs to get his blog-hit page-views up.

Posted by: Leesburger | March 6, 2008 12:15 PM

Stick's comment proves that opposition to equal marriage rights is about hatred of gay and lesbian Americans, not about some well-reasoned, deep personal belief.

Hate is sin: why aren't the bible thumpers pointing out that sin?

Posted by: token1 | March 6, 2008 12:19 PM

My impression from this article is that Sen. Muse is genuinely seeking a solution that connects his faith and his politics without damaging either. For Raskin - who's so far left he may actually have Massachusetts tags on his car - to call him his buddy seems to be proof of this (I doubt Raskin would call himself a friend of your garden variety Red State demagogue.)

I don't think Muse will succeed. The quote from Bengt Washburn in Libby Copeland's Feb. 8 article put it best: "All theology standing next to logic is weird." I am not a person of faith myself, but I appreciate that Sen. Muse is making an effort instead of hiding behind theology.

Posted by: keep trying | March 6, 2008 2:16 PM

By the same obtuse logic that allows religious leaders to attempt to contort civil law to adhere to their religious beliefs, one can posit that it is a conflict of interest for a religious leader to hold a secular office since he obviously cannot separate his duties to the church from his duties to the state. If he cannot set aside his religious beliefs in order to serve his constituency equally regardless of their majority/minority status in any form, then he should not be the representative of his constituency.

How about a law for "legal co-habitant" or "common-law co-habitant" and set some limit on the amount of time that a couple co-habitates to allow the rights of partnership including legal rights to ownership, medical decisions, inheritance, etc. Since the number of couples (including heterosexuals) co-habitating has risen dramatically over the years, there are probably more co-habitating heterosexual couples that would benefit from these rights than homosexual couples that would benefit. Once you couch it in those types of numbers, including non-married co-habitating parents of children, you might be able to get enough joint backing to provide equal rights for all under and umbrella term that truly covers all unions and doesn't flag the same sex unions.

Posted by: DadWannaBe | March 6, 2008 4:48 PM

My comment about the limit of time above meant say "over a year" or "over two years" in which to establish that a co-habitation deserved to have legal protection between partners. Shorter term and/or more casual co-habitation does not necessarily require such protections.

Posted by: DadWannaBe | March 6, 2008 4:51 PM


Faith, or is it prejudice? Don't make such a big deal about who marries whom. Mind your own business, if two dudes want to hook up, who are you to judge? Besides, I don't exist and that whole book is a bunch of phony-baloney.

Posted by: God | March 6, 2008 5:10 PM

Sen. Muse shows great concern for the fair treatment of people. At the end of the day it will be more important how you are treated as a human being then if your marriage or union is accepted by others and what it is called. The focus must remain fairness to all people regardless of race , gender ,religion, etc.

Posted by: shelley | March 7, 2008 9:33 PM

Our species prescient behavior followed our needs of coalescence and collated into families than tribes that pullulated into large clans than Nation States!
The behavior rules of the tribe pertaining to copulation and mating were unavoidable and required the necessity of ubiquitous tribal sanction-agreed tribal marriage for personal homeostasis but primarily for expansion and reproduction!
Even the primitive tribal mind eschewed the fallacy of reproduction of same sex coupling!
Same sex marriage is a human behavior that obviously was repugnant to most tribal members that were not endowed with these neophilia 21st century discovered and defined Homo sapiens feelings hence:the endemic Homo sapiens meme for coupling is restricted to the same gender! This is an intrinsic endemic Homo sapiens tribal rules that will not be altered for fear that the purrpose of the entire tribal meme of coupling may become permutated!

Posted by: H.L. Mencken | March 9, 2008 12:55 PM

I have many homosexual family members and friends and they have just as much right to get married as the rest of us... they don't have to get a sex change to do it let them marry who they love... you can't help who you love it's not choice it is fate... they are no different than you, me, or anyone else in this screwed up world... you see people all the time who are bisexual, homosexual, transvesdites, and cross dressers and in apperance they may not be who they are inside, but they are still human, and that is all that counts.

Posted by: ashten | April 15, 2008 1:28 PM

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