Advocates and opponents of gay marriage took their pitches to the Democratic-controlled Maryland State Senate on Tuesday afternoon. They lobbied a key committee over the issue of whether to make Maryland the sixth state in which members of the same sex could marry. Among them was Greek-American attorney Chrysovalantis Kefalas who used to work with former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, a Republican and gay marriage opponent. Kefalas said he struggled greatly with his identity as a gay member of a Greek Orthodox family and a conservative. In his statement he offered great reasoning supporting gay marriage “decidedly Republican.”
Below you can read Chrysovalantis Kefalas’ complete statement to the Maryland committee.
Mr. Chairman: I appreciate the opportunity to appear here today and testify about a bill that I regard as extremely important. Senate Bill 116 will bring full civil marriage freedom to Maryland and move our state closer to realizing the promises of the Declaration.
As you and many members of the Committee will recall, I previously served as Deputy Legal Counsel to Governor Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr. In this role, I administered the Governor’s Executive Clemency initiative, advised the Governor on more clemency petitions than any other attorney on his staff, lobbied for passage of his anti-witness intimidation reforms, defended the Governor during the legislative investigation into his personnel practices, and, of course, provided counsel on issues of constitutional law and criminal justice. In short, I dealt with some of the most important issues Governor Ehrlich addressed during his tenure: liberty, freedom, and justice. And these are the issues at stake with your consideration of Senate Bill 116.
Governor Ehrlich stated clearly his opposition to civil marriage freedom during his campaign for governor, and I do not purport to speak for him here. While I respect and agree with him on so many issues and respect the religious convictions of those opposed to same-sex marriage, as a conservative Republican, I believe history, law, reason, and experience will discredit opposition to civil marriage freedom. The United States Supreme Court has repeatedly held that marriage is one of the most fundamental civil rights that we have as Americans under our Constitution. As Theodore Olson, former United States Solicitor General under President George W. Bush and Assistant Attorney General in the Reagan Administration, emphasized:
It is an expression of our desire to create a social partnership, to live and share life’s joys and burdens with the person we love, and to form a lasting bond and a social identity. The Supreme Court has said that marriage is a part of the Constitution’s protections of liberty, privacy, freedom of association, and spiritual identification. In short, the right to marry helps us to define ourselves and our place in a community. Without it, there can be no true equality under the law.
Denying people a civil right because of the gender of the person they love is inconsistent with the core principles of our Republic and the animating principles — individual liberty, personal freedom, and limited government — that gave rise to a movement and party that I call home. As Barry Goldwater put it, “the Conservative looks upon politics as the art of achieving the maximum amount of freedom for individuals that is consistent with the maintenance of the social order.” Allowing all of our citizens to partake in the state benefits and privileges of civil marriage would do just that.
It is time Maryland lived up to her “free state” designation. It is time you, our representative leaders, rededicated our state “to the proposition that all men are created equal.” No longer should our state treat gays and lesbians as second-class citizens. No longer should our state permit discrimination on the basis of an immutable characteristic. No longer should our state treat same-sex relationships as, in Mr. Olson’s words, “less worthy, less sanctioned, or less legitimate.”
And I offer this plea to you not simply based on the law and political philosophy, or because of a belief that all lawyers should use the law and their skills to do good, but because of a personal reason too.
Robert F. Kennedy once said, “Few men are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality of those who seek to change a world which yields most painfully to change.” I frankly do not profess to possess the “moral courage” that Kennedy described. The battle for civil rights in his time was more violent and more dangerous. But, today, silence is not an option because equal rights and freedom demand the best and the most of each and every one of us. Like Kennedy, I do not just see a world as it is and ask why, but I see and dream of a world that never was, and ask why not. For the first time, I can see that world so close. I can see that there is fullness of life in this country and state for every man and woman. There is healing on the horizon for tired minds and for overburdened spirits. There is courage in this legislative body to support the Constitution and laws of our nation and our state, without partiality or prejudice, if we only listen, if we lift up our eyes.
I am gay. Under the present law, I am considered less of a citizen and less deserving of government’s legal recognition. I cannot access the same civil right that an incarcerated felon can benefit from.
It is very difficult to express to you how hard it was coming to terms with who I am. Striving to succeed in business and professionally and be the best son, brother, grandson, godchild, nephew, cousin, and friend for so long enabled me to shield a side of me I wanted to ignore, to fight off, and to deny. Working endlessly on entrepreneurial activities in high school and college (for example, founding a weekly sports magazine once featured alongside ESPN.com in USA Today’s Baseball Weekly as one of the premier fantasy baseball websites in America), total commitment to my educational and professional pursuits, and filling my schedule entirely with family or work moments allowed me to go longer than many in denying this part of me. I did not need to date because I had work. I did not need to date because I had family commitments I wanted to keep. And, putting self-realization aside was necessary to protect my family and me from the stigma, stereotypes, and consequences of giving in to something triggered within me.
Because of the stigmatization fostered and unequal treatment imposed, in part, by state law, and adjoining prejudices, stereotypes, and consequences of this reality, I endured a struggle for and of my life. Rendered essentially illegitimate by law, all that mattered to me and all that defined me, including relationships with the people I most admire and love, were (and in some cases remain) at risk.
I had always dreamed of making my family proud, not only by my public service and other professional accomplishments but by marrying; having and raising third generation Greek-Americans to reach farther than their parents and grandparents had; and building an enduring legacy of service that would contribute to improving the lives of people less fortunate than us. I wished to hug my grandparents after the wedding crown was placed on my head, to embrace my godfather after the wedding ceremony, to lead my bride in the first dance, to hold my child on the altar of my beloved St. Nicholas Church. And, through all that, turn to my parents who I wanted to see beaming, because they have sacrificed so much for me, with their ultimate dream for their son fulfilled.
And, these family goals ignored that everything I had worked for, to put myself in a position to contribute more to my country, state, and community, by serving in elective office as a Republican when the time was right, might have been for naught.
I tried to do everything I knew to avoid the loss of these moments and dreams. What I confirmed about myself was the result of an emotional, psychological, and spiritual struggle and extensive deliberation. I did not and would not do anything to dishonor my family, my friends, and everyone else who put their trust and confidence in me. Though I felt I was different at least by age fourteen, I committed to never act on my feelings for well over a decade for my concern of what it would do to my family, to all my relationships, and to my dreams. I really wanted to think it was just a phase. For a long while, I hated myself and did not think that the thoughts I felt were part of God’s plan. I constantly denied to myself what I knew. I continually put on a facade as if everything was okay but underneath it was not.
Before the darkest hour of my life, I prayed harder; sought the intercession of the great saints of my faith; visited and prayed at some of the holiest places in my faith; went on dates with women (it helped being named one of Baltimore magazine’s Top Singles); and sought out professionals for reparative therapy and spent whatever I thought it took, literally tens of thousands of dollars, to try to fight what I looked at as an unnatural state of mind. I also went to spiritual counseling to change. I tried to change what I thought, felt, and knew.
For me, not being able to experience the traditional Greek-American dream, or my take on it, felt for so long like a life lost. My parents measure their success by the life of their children, and I dwelled so long on the thought that I would be in their eyes a failed son despite everything I have done, been, believed. I prayed for so long that I would be diagnosed with a terminal illness, maybe like my grandfather Panagioti, because the thought of telling my family and friends that over what I felt seemed better. I thought it would be better to not be around, to allow them and my sister and family to think of, remember me for who I was, not for who I might come to love.
As a result of all these concerns, I thought of and seriously came close to ending my life, with the medications to overdose with and die.
I am here today because the perceived easy path to overcome the challenges, instead of the hard one, was not meant to be. At that moment, when I survived, I believed my life still had a purpose and I still had something to contribute.
I never thought the day would come, but what can seem impossible one day can seem inevitable the next. So, over time and after much soul-searching, I arrived at the conclusion that I could not change who I was, that I was gay, and that I wanted to live, hopefully to find someone to spend the rest of my life with. I received information authored by internationally-renowned psychologist Dr. Gregory Herek, concluding that people “have no choice in their sexual orientation” and that “therapeutic efforts to change an individual’s sexual orientation have not been effective and instead pose a risk of harm to the individual.” I was shown study after study demonstrating that the vast majority of gay men and lesbians have “no choice” about their sexual orientation. I was told by certain respected religious leaders, including from institutions that currently prohibit same-sex marriage, that they believe people have “no choice” as well. And I arrived to the belief that those American ideals enshrined in our founding documents would one day carry the day, and I would be welcomed as a full member of our society, not left as a permanent member of an underclass of Americans.
Mr. Chairman and members of this Committee, acting favorably on Senate Bill 116 will not change all the difficulties about being gay, or end the struggle of identification and for acceptance in so many communities. But your favorable action on this bill will begin to peal away centuries of unjust treatment on the basis of something as essential to our existence as our gender, as our ethnicity, and as our race. And, if you know me well, that statement should carry some weight because, to many, being Greek is all that defines me.
From the beginning, gays and lesbians have served our country and state. On the front lines of war, they have died and they have saved their countrymen and nations. They have served in critical posts in the White House and in state houses across our nation, including our own, like me. They have led political movements. They have run incredibly successfully businesses. They have pioneered groundbreaking scientific developments. We have contributed and continue to contribute to the improvement of our nation and state and to the well being of our families. There is no rational basis to deny us civil marriage and to deny us status as equals in society.
To my conservative friends on this Committee, although you relied on my professional judgment when I served as Governor Ehrlich’s attorney, you can reject my judgment as to who I am, disapprove of me, gays and same-sex marriage out of religious conviction. Yet, there are still ample reasons to support civil marriage freedom. First, it is anti-conservative and antithetical to the principles of individual liberty and personal freedom to force government to stop me from partaking in a civil right essential to my place in the community. Second, this is decidedly a state issue, not a religious one. Marriage, under state law, is after all a civil bond, to provide a privilege and respected status, entitled to the state’s support and benefits. Moreover, under this proposed bill, religious institutions and groups can choose to endorse same-sex marriage or not as they see fit. Third, there is nothing more conservative than supporting freedom and there is nothing less conservative than forbidding the creation of families. So much of what is important about families will be protected, enhanced, and encouraged in allowing all men and women to share in marriage.
And, fourth, history calls you to protect and support equality under the law. You represent a party that was once the nation’s unquestioned political movement for and defender of civil rights. Despite fierce Democratic opposition, Republicans passed constitutional amendments banning slavery, extending the Bill of Rights to the states, guaranteeing equal protection of the laws and due process to all citizens, and extending the right to vote to persons of all races and backgrounds. Republicans in Congress enacted the first-ever Civil Rights Act, which extended citizenship and equal rights to people of all races, all colors, and all creeds. In 1875, Republicans led the expansion of these protections to give all citizens the right to access public accommodations. Republicans initially led the fight for women’s rights. And, it was a Republican justice, John Marshall Harlan, who in 1896 declared that our Constitution recognizes “no superior, dominant class of citizens . . . In respect of civil rights all citizens are equal before the law.” Today, lead as they did, to end invidious discrimination and to bring to all of Maryland’s citizens the promise of equality and the fundamental rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
I urge you to vote favorably on Senate Bill 116. As Calvin Coolidge said, “One of the greatest perils to an extensive republic is the disregard of individual rights.” Liberty, freedom, and justice should belong to all of Maryland’s citizens. It is time.