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Policy: Law

Same-sex marriage faces some lingering resistance in Maryland

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Local,Maryland,Rachel Baye,Gay Marriage,Law

When same-sex marriage becomes legal in Maryland next week, some employees in the St. Mary's County Circuit Court will stop performing marriages, passing the duty on to other employees.

"There are some [deputy clerks] that have voiced some opposition to doing it -- [they have] religious feelings about it ... so it's basically my idea that they won't do any marriage at all," said Joan Williams, clerk of the St. Mary's County Circuit Court. "Some people are just very against same-sex marriages, and I have to respect their reasons and their decisions."

St. Mary's County, as well as every other county in the state, is legally required to start performing same-sex marriages on Jan. 2, and many government employees and wedding industry professionals statewide are embracing the change. In fact, in Montgomery County, Circuit Court officials are scheduled to perform six same-sex marriages on Jan. 2, said Clerk Loretta Knight.

But in a state where 52 percent of voters approved of legalizing gay marriage, St. Mary's County clerks are not the only residents resisting the new law.

John Zito, president of the Maryland Wedding Professionals Association, said he knows of a wedding photographer who "didn't feel comfortable" taking same-sex couples' photos because he was unaccustomed to posing two grooms or two brides together. Zito would not identify the photographer.

"I'm a photographer by trade myself, and I've done a couple of commitment ceremonies, and it is kind of awkward," Zito said. "When you have two men, I don't know how to pose them, and this person didn't know how to provide them the same services [as he would provide straight couples] if they didn't know how to pose them."

And Discover Annapolis Tours, which offers tours by old-fashioned trolley that have been popular in Annapolis weddings, will no longer serve weddings as a result of owner Matt Grubbs' religious beliefs, The Baltimore Sun reported. In an email to a prospective client, Grubbs urged Maryland residents to lobby for a change in the law exempting religious business owners.

If a business leaves the wedding industry, rather than picking and choosing between clients, he is avoiding discrimination, said Glendora Hughes, general counsel for the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights, a state agency that monitors discrimination mostly in the private sector. Hughes would not comment on any specific businesses' practices before a formal complaint has been filed and an opinion issued.

The St. Mary's County Circuit Court's actions -- changing which deputy clerks perform marriages -- also appear to skirt discrimination, said Carrie Evans, executive director of Equality Maryland, a gay rights group.

But the photographer might be in legal trouble if he's picking his clients based on their sexual orientation, Evans said. "Would he opt out of [photographing] African-Americans getting married because he can't do the lighting right?"

rbaye@washingtonexaminer.com

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