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Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act: My Testimony

2011 March 1

Last week, before the House Judiciary Committee, Maryland’s six openly gay delegates testified on behalf of marriage equality:

Below is the testimony I am submitting in support of House Bill 175:

On April 29th, 1979, something beautiful happened.  In front of their friends and family, my father, the son of a small business owner who served in the Army in World War II, married my mother, the daughter of an accountant who had served in the Coast Guard during the same war.  After eight years together, my parents decided to legally wed.

Four and a half years later, they had my brother, Nicholas, and in March of of 1986, they bought a larger house for their growing family and welcomed me into it.  In 1989, they built an addition to the house after my younger brother Kirk was born.  In May, Kirk will complete his bachelor’s degree, just as Nick and I did before him.  Today, Nick is a film writer and programmer in Brooklyn, I work for the Baltimore City Health Department, and Kirk is a Dean’s List student in chemistry.

We were raised in a suburb of Albany, New York, where my dad still works for the state, and where my mother worked for an organization that lobbied the state government on behalf of New York’s counties and county officials.  Dinner conversation often revolved around politics and the kids’ various activities.  We all played Little League baseball.  We all played musical instruments.  We all studied the Russian language.  We enjoyed family vacations and pizza every Friday night.  We all got good grades and went to good colleges, where we each found a unique passion: Nick for film and writing, Kirk for chemistry, and me for public health.  Our parents always supported and nurtured our interests, and delighted in our successes.

In almost every way, we are an average, middle-class, American family.  It seems the only thing that makes us even remotely exceptional is me.  And I don’t take this lightly.  I am gay.  I’ve known this since I was 18, and have never, not for a moment, questioned my family’s support or love for me.

I was just 14 when my mother was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer.  After six years of chemotherapy, she died when I was 20.  My mother did not live to see any of her children marry the person they love, and I find some comfort in knowing that she would not have treated my wedding any differently than my brothers’.  She would have been sobbing in the front row at all three.  But I can only imagine how hurt she’d be by those who would judge, condemn, or de-value me and my relationships.  As a mother, her first priority was always her children, and she tried so hard to protect us from harm.  Fighting this battle without her has been much more difficult than I anticipated.

There are 20 states in this country—including Maryland—where I can marry my first cousin (so long as he’s male), but only 7—including DC and, as of this week, Hawaii—where I can marry a woman.  When my parents wed 32 years ago, they were not making a political statement.  They were making a commitment to each other, to their future children, and to their community.  They recognized that the protections that marriage afforded them would mean a more secure life for their family.  I believe in marriage because my parents showed me what a loving, trusting, stable relationship looks like.  And I want that someday.

I recently lost my dear Uncle Charlie, a man with whom I often discussed love and relationships.  Charlie had the biggest heart of any man I’ve ever met.  He once said, “Remember, love is precious, and life is too long without it.”  Every day that this state continues to discriminate against gays and lesbians, we are told that our love is not precious, that our families aren’t important, and our unions aren’t worth protecting.

My father frequently asks his children, half-jokingly, “When is one of you going to make me a grandfather?”  My response is always the same.  “That is going to require a whole lot of time, energy, and money that I don’t have right now.”  It will also require a partner, with whom I can share the joys and challenges of parenthood.  I am very excited for the day when I can give my father a grandchild, but I will not raise a child in a state that does not legally protect gay and lesbian families.

So I ask you to please add Maryland to the list of states that honors all families, that protects all children, and that stands up to those who would tell us that our love is anything less than precious.

Thank you.

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