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Maryland UUs battle for marriage equality

Same-sex couples sue for marriage licenses in Baltimore.
By Jane Greer

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Glen Dehn and Charles Blackburn

Plaintiffs Charles Blackburn (right) and Glen Dehn. (Photo by Chris Hartlove)

Unitarian Universalists are once again front and center in the campaign for marriage equality. Charles Blackburn, a member and past board president of the First Unitarian Church in Baltimore, and his partner Glen Dehn are among the plaintiffs suing the Baltimore city clerk for refusing to issue marriage licenses to them.

If successful, the suit could ultimately result in the legalization of same-sex marriage in Maryland. At present, Massachusetts is the only state in the nation permitting same-sex couples to marry. The plaintiffs -- nine couples and a bereaved man -- are being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Blackburn and Dehn, both retired, are worried about their legal rights as seniors. “We are keenly aware that we could have greater parity in health benefits and pension rights as well as greater tax equity and inheritance security if we were married,” Blackburn said in a recent speech at a ministers’ forum in Frederick, Maryland. “We are concerned about hospital visitation rights and empowerment to fulfill each others’ medical and burial requests.”

Oral arguments for the case were heard last Tuesday by Baltimore Circuit Judge M. Booke Murdock as a crowd of 100 marriage equality supporters gathered to cheer the plaintiffs as they left the courthouse. It is not known when a ruling will be made. Either way, the decision is expected to be appealed.

Unitarian Universalists have long supported equal rights for gays and lesbians, including a resolution at the 1970 General Assembly calling for an end to job discrimination based on sexual orientation. In 1984, the Association endorsed ceremonies of union for same-sex couples and in 1996 called for legalization of same-sex marriage. Of the 14 plaintiffs in the landmark Massachusetts case, seven were UUs.

Blackburn is a former UU minister. Ordained in 1962, he was active in the civil rights movement while serving parishes in California, Alabama, and New York. In 1967 he took a position on the national staff of the ACLU. For the past 25 years he has been a fund-raiser for Baltimore-area institutions such as the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Johns Hopkins Medical School. He and Dehn have been together 26 years.

On Monday, August 29, more than 50 Maryland clergy gathered for an interfaith press conference in support of marriage equality. Among the UU clergy present were the Rev. Phyllis Hubbell, the Rev. John Manwell, the Rev. Lisa Ward, the Rev. Terrence Ellen, and the Rev. Clare Petersberger.

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