Twenty-one years is a long time to wait for a wedding.
For Sabrina Meyers and her partner Estina, a lesbian couple living in University Park, the wait could be over in just a few short weeks if the Maryland General Assembly passes the Civil Marriage Protection Act.
Not that all Meyers and Estina have been doing these last two decades is waiting. They've changed jobs, bought and moved into a new home, given birth to and raised a daughter, adopted a dog, and built a supportive community of friends and neighbors. They have been living their lives—two moms, one daughter—in their home in University Park.
When Sabrina and Estina first got together, they didn’t even want to get married. As the years have passed, that’s changed.
“For the longest time, we thought it was just a piece of paper, but as we get older, we think it means more than that,” Meyers said.
Their 7-year-old daughter, Emily, is ready for her moms to get married. With their 21st anniversary coming up just after Valentine’s Day, this might be the year—legislation permitting.
They’ve discussed marrying in a state where same-sex marriage is already recognized but ultimately decided not to go that route.
“It just feels right to do it in our own state,” Meyers said.
The couple have given each other medical power of attorney, but if Estina were to become ill or be in an accident, Meyers would have to show up at the hospital with a piece of paper to prove she was legally allowed to make medical decisions on behalf of her partner. Married couples do not need this additional protection.
When Estina gave birth to their daughter Emily seven years ago, Meyers had to apply for adoption to become a legal parent. Were they married, Sabrina would have not have been required to adopt her daughter. Emily would have been her legal daughter at birth.
According to Heather Mizeur, an openly gay delegate from Montgomery County, there are about 423 other rights that Meyers and Estina would be entitled to as a married couple in Maryland.
The College Park City Council voted 7-1 last month in support of the bill. Still, some local residents worry about the social impact of the Civil Marriage Protection Act.
College Park resident and former president of the North College Park Citizens Association Larry Bleau says he’s all for giving people rights, but he does not support redefining “marriage” to make that happen.
“This is cultural change being forced through this mechanism,” Bleau said of the proposed legislation.
“Who has done a study on how this would impact society?” he asked.
Bleau said he objects to the lack of a “conscience clause” in the legislation to protect those with religious objections to gay marriage, such as teachers who do not want to address the issue in the classroom, court clerks who do not feel comfortable issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples or religious institutions who do not want to rent their recreation halls out for gay marriage celebrations. These people could lose their jobs or be subjected to lawsuits, he worries.
“I see this as ultimately impinging on religious freedom,” Bleau said.
That argument held little sway during last week's Prince Georgians for Marriage Equality event in Hyattsville. Mizeur and Delegate Justin Ross (D-Dist. 22) were among those who spoke to a crowd of more than 200 supporters at Busboys & Poets.
Ross was not always support gay marriage. Early in his career, he supported civil unions, but not full marriage for gay and lesbian couples. Over the years, as Ross met more and more gay and lesbian families, he came to believe that they deserved the same protections and benefits that he and his wife, Nancy, enjoy.
“This is about supporting the rights of all Prince George’s County citizens, every single one,” he said.
Ross encouraged his neighbors and constituents to take action by lobbying the legislature, calling their local representatives and participating in phone banks.
“If we don’t do what we are supposed to do, think how we will feel if we come up one vote short,” he said. “And if we do lose, that’s what it will be—by one vote.”
Just last week, a federal appeals court in California ruled their same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional and two days ago, Washington state became the seventh state in America to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry.
If the General Assembly passes the necessary legislation over the next few weeks, Maryland will be the eighth, with other states considering similar gay marriage legislation this year.
“The tide is not turning,” Mizeur said. “The tide has turned.”