Byline: Jon Ward, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
A national religious-freedom group has chosen the same-sex "marriage" case to be argued today in Maryland's highest court to file its first legal argument.
The Beckett Fund, a nonprofit legal group supporting religious freedoms, argues that legalized same-sex "marriage" could result in civil suits against churches that refuse to marry same-sex couples or refuse to hire homosexual employees.
"It's such a controversial issue that we weren't going to move until we were certain the threats were real and pervasive," said Roger T. Severino, a lawyer with the District-based group. "And now we are confident they are."
The group also says the government might strip such churches of their tax-exempt status and of their power to license marriages.
The case before the Maryland Court of Appeals comes from a lower court ruling in January, in which a judge decided a 1973 statute defining marriage as between a man and woman violated the state constitution. The ruling by Baltimore Circuit Judge M. Brooke Murdock was stayed until the appeals court could hear the case. The appeals court ruling is expected in the coming weeks.
The Becket Fund - which has defended Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews and Protestant Christians in the United States and abroad - filed one of nearly two dozen "friend of the court" - or amicus curiae - briefs in the closely watched case.
The court may consider arguments presented in such briefs, but is not required to do so.
An attorney for the 19 plaintiffs, who filed their lawsuit in 2004, called Mr. Severino's claim a "false alarm bell."
"There are sometimes tensions between religious liberty and nondiscrimination mandates," said Kenneth Y. Choe, an attorney for the plaintiffs and the American Civil Liberties Union's homosexual rights project. "Regardless of what happens in this lawsuit, that tension already exists, and there exists a legal framework for how to resolve it."
Mr. Severino disagrees, saying the existing definition of marriage as between one man and one woman pervades the law of the land.
"The issue is so fundamental it's almost hard to see the intricate web of connections that marriage has with religious liberty and the thousands of government regulations that affect religious institutions," Mr. Severino said.
Churches or pastors also could be penalized for teaching sacred texts …