Maryland was established on the principles of equality, religious freedom, separation of church and state, and opportunity. No place is this more clear than at Historic St. Mary’s City, the first city and capital of Maryland as well as the first successful proprietary colony in English North America, which is situated right next to the beautiful school we call home.
On any given day, we are lucky enough to be able to stroll down to “Historic” and explore the reconstructed buildings and learn about the foundations of this great state from the passionate and engaging interpreters who work there. It was on a recent trip to Historic that it struck me how much the state’s founding values apply to Questions 4 and 6 on the ballot and how Marylanders should consider where our state came from as we go to the polls or cast our absentee ballots.
At St. Mary’s City, all landholding men had equal voting rights and religious freedom was established for the first time in English North America by the Calverts in the charter of Maryland so as to preserve civility between the Protestants and Catholics settling in the new colony. St. Mary’s City was also the first place in the English North America to seek the separation of church and state. Ultimately, the goal of those settling at St. Mary’s City was to prosper – to translate the opportunity for a new life with more freedoms and political equality into accomplishment and economic security.
The social boundaries of this vision were tested and foreshadowed significant civil rights milestones both for Maryland and the entire country as St. Mary’s City residents Mathias de Sousa became the first legislator of African descent in North America in 1642 and Margaret Brent became the first woman to petition for the right to vote in 1648. They were early trailblazers for greater acceptance and an expanded understanding of equality, and remind us that our state and country have only become greater because we have persevered in delivering the kinds of change they represented and called for.
These core values of our great state will be tested on Election Day on Questions 4 and 6. They test our resolve to uphold these values in the civil sphere, to continue applying lessons we have learned over hundreds of years—very much including those encapsulated in the ideas and experiences of early colonial Maryland and up to present day.
Opponents constantly frame question 4 as “a law that would extend in-state tuition benefits to illegal immigrants.” However, upon more careful review, the proposed law (The DREAM ACT) would provide in-state and in-county tuition rates to graduates of Maryland high schools after spending at least three years in our education system, to students who pay taxes or whose families pay taxes, to people who have committed to filing for permanent resident status, and to patriots who have committed to registering with the Selective Service if appropriate. Question 4 is about giving in-state and in-county tuition benefits to people who identify as Marylanders and Americans and who have demonstrated their commitment to this state and country just as much as I have, a citizen of Maryland and the United States since I was born; a proud graduate of Towson High School and current student at the Maryland’s Public Honors College.
The DREAM Act is about expanding economic opportunities for Marylanders, giving all Maryland high school graduates the same tools and resources we have identified as critical to the development of an informed and productive workforce. Doing so will bring tremendous annual economic benefits to our state – $66 million in total benefits per cohort of DREAM students, as modeled by the Maryland Institute for Policy Analysis and Research. Clearly, not only would voting for Question 4 be in keeping with Maryland’s historic values of equality and creating a society focused on affording greater economic opportunities to individuals; so, too, does the DREAM Act have direct dollar-value benefits for all Marylanders. A vote “yes” for Question 4 is a win-win for Maryland.
Question 6 again presents Marylanders with a chance to broaden social equality and improve economic opportunities of individuals. Voting for Question 6 would allow all couples, regardless of sex, to enter into committed relationships that form the bedrock of our civil society and from which tangible economic benefits flow. This issue is different from Question 4 in that it is more strongly debated in the context of religious beliefs – a critical component of many Marylanders’ identities. People on both sides of the issue cite religious values and passages from religious texts to sway voters. However, Maryland’s heritage and founding principles instruct us to approach the question of civil marriage differently. As Marylanders, we should ask: 1) “Does the Civil Marriage Protection Act preserve religious freedom?” 2) “Does the law improve the standard of separation of church and state?” and 3) “Does the law create a more equitable and opportunity-rich Maryland?”
The answer to all of three questions is yes. The law explicitly ensures that religious organizations and private businesses will not be forced to extend any formal recognition of these unions should they be contrary to their beliefs. Thus, the law makes it clear that the government is limited in its authority and fully respects these beliefs. Lastly, voting “yes” on 6 shows that Marylanders respect the separation of church and state as it pertains to the two definitions of marriage. Supporting the Civil Marriage Protection Act allows the state to move forward with eliminating destructive discrimination from its laws by allowing civil “marriage” licenses to be obtained by any couple. Religious organizations should be free to endorse or oppose religious recognition of these relationships as “marriage” as they see proper.
We should consider our common civic identity as Marylanders more strongly than our individual identities: Catholic, gay, black, atheist, immigrant, and so on. Our historic heritage as Marylanders informs and unites us all. We share a heritage that transcends demographic divisions and self-interest and it would be in the best Maryland tradition to vote for Questions 4 and 6. Maryland is a state of firsts, a state built on strong principles, and a state unafraid to blaze new paths in pursuit of these ideals. Let’s continue the great legacy of our state’s progress together.