October 25, 2007

Group Calls Civil Marriage a Civil Right

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: media@aclu.org

BALTIMORE -- In a landmark effort to foster dialogue within black communities across Maryland on the principles of fairness, justice and equality for all families, a group of prominent Maryland African American allies of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities gathered today at Morgan State University to announce the formation of the Maryland Black Family Alliance (MBFA). The founding members of the MBFA come from all walks of life — elected officials, ministers, professors, medical doctors and community activists. The group is a growing coalition of black families and leaders of many faiths who know that discrimination is wrong and that it damages everyone when any group of Americans is excluded from the legal protections that other Americans enjoy.

The MBFA will work in partnership with the ACLU of Maryland, Equality Maryland, and other civil rights, religious, and civic groups in their education and outreach efforts.

"After decades of fighting for civil rights, there still remain many challenges for African Americans in Maryland," said Elbridge James, Director of the MBFA. "Through my work I have come to understand that for thousands of black same-sex couples these challenges are compounded because the state's marriage law discriminates against them and denies them basic legal protections. That is why the Maryland Black Family Alliance's mission is to build bridges, build understanding and just talk about why it is wrong for committed same-sex couples to be denied access to medical insurance, to visit each other in the hospital and to make medical decisions for each other."

Speakers at the press conference included James, State Senator Gwendolyn Britt, State Delegate Jose line Peña-Melnyk, State Delegate Craig Rice, Rev. Larry Brumfield (Westminster Church of the Brethren), Bonnita Spikes (Anti-death penalty advocate and mother of a transgender son), Alexander Robinson (Executive Director, National Black Justice Coalition) and Vanessa Bowling (Co-President, Morgan State's Rainbow Soul).

Calling civil marriage a civil right, MBFA members highlighted the clear distinction between what civil marriage means legally and what spiritual marriage means from a religious perspective. Sen. Britt underscored this distinction by noting that the name of her sponsored bill to extend the freedom to marry to same-sex couples is the "Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act." She will introduce this measure in the General Assembly in 2008.

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