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When Question 6 passed in Maryland in November, it was by the skin of its teeth. In Southern Maryland, the controversial ballot question affirming a law legalizing same-sex marriage failed in every county.

The poor polling locally, however, did not discourage couples in the region who had wished to marry in the state and suddenly found themselves with the freedom to do so. Now, months later, couples in Southern Maryland have taken advantage of their newfound right to wed. But has anything changed in terms of attitude and perception?

Making history

On New Year’s Day, Newburg couple Bruce Preece and Keith Moore, together for 25 years, made history when they became the first same-sex couple to legally wed in Charles County. Neither man expected their special day to be notable.

“It was just surprising to be the first,” Moore said in May. “I figured that there would be others before us, but … I guess somebody had to be first.”

“It was just such a shock,” Preece said. “We were just planning to go in and do it, and then this got offered to us. The folks in our neighborhood tell us we really got our 15 minutes of fame.”

Preece said their nuptials have gotten national attention since initial local coverage of the wedding.

“We’ve had people from across the country who are looking to move to Maryland calling us,” Preece said. “They tell us that they found our article online, and I guess they looked us up that way. ... We tell them to do it, to go ahead and move here.”

Preece said that even though it has been smooth sailing for him and Moore, the nation still has a long way to go.

“We’re getting the rights we deserved, but there are still people coming out who get killed and beaten,” Preece said. But he acknowledged that progress for gay civil rights is rapid.

“Knowing that there are other states following suit and so rapidly is amazing,” he said.

Moore noted that when he scans the marriage licenses in the paper, he notices more and more same-sex couples applying to be married.

“I’m just thrilled to death with that. It’s absolutely remarkable,” Moore said of the phenomenon.

For both men, the only change has been that their union is now legally recognized.

“After we got married, my co-workers asked me what married life was like, and I just looked at them and said, ‘Well, it’s no different than having been together for all these years,’” Moore said.

Del. Peter F. Murphy (D-Charles), one of the state’s eight openly gay lawmakers, attended Preece and Moore’s January wedding. Murphy said he has attended other ceremonies since then and seen firsthand the effects of the passage of Question 6. Murphy noted, however, that not as many couples have gotten married as some might have expected.

“It’s possible that some people feel that they’ve been together so long that they don’t need to get married,” Murphy said. “It’s been a while since it passed, but it hasn’t been that long. … We may see more weddings as the year goes on.”

Murphy said the legality of same-sex marriage still bears a striking but simple effect. “For those individuals who can now be married, they can enjoy the same protections under the law that everyone else does,” he said.

Waldorf residents Candice and Layla Maine-Proctor wed in April in a ceremony at Sotterley Plantation in Hollywood. The two women have been together for 5½ years.

They lived together on campus at Towson University and graduated at the same time in December 2011. They knew that getting married was always in the plan.

“It was just a gut feeling,” Candice said.

“I don’t think either of us could ever see each other with anyone else,” Layla added.

Had same-sex marriage not passed in Maryland, the pair intended to wed in Washington, D.C. The timing of the passage of Question 6 worked out for them.

The April 27 wedding went perfectly, both women said. Candice’s family has known she is a lesbian since high school, but Layla said she did not come out until they met.

“She’s the only girl I’ve ever been with,” Layla said. “I never had a problem with coming out. … It just seemed natural, never like I had to hide things.”

In the public eye, Candice said, “We don’t hide it, but we don’t flaunt it, either.”

Layla, a teacher at Thomas Stone High School in Waldorf, said her students have been aware of her sexuality since long before the wedding. “Everyone we know just knows,” Layla said. “I don’t have to hide that she’s my wife, and I can actually say it.”

Because same-sex marriage is not yet legally recognized by the federal government, Candice, a federal employee, said she is unable to put Layla on her insurance. Luckily, Candice said, Layla is able to get insurance through her own job. Otherwise, the pair said, there are not many challenges.

“We can walk out and hold hands, but someone is always going to look,” Candice said.

Layla said she has seen her comfort and openness with her own sexuality serve as a source of comfort to students of hers struggling with their own, but there are times it has been awkward in class.

She said the first time she acknowledged that she was gay to a class, it was after a student had made a joke about homosexuality.

“They … kept going on, so I told them that I’m gay. There were crickets. They asked if I was serious, and I told them yes, my fiancee is a woman. I said you can’t say things like that because you don’t know what teachers or friends are gay, or whose parents might be, and one student raised his hand. That was so cool.”

Supporting same-sex marriage in church

Chaplain James Gibbons Walker, who presides over the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Southern Maryland congregation in Hollywood, is straight but has always been drawn to the faith’s long-standing tradition of accepting people regardless of sexual orientation.

According to church doctrine, Walker said, marriage equality has been supported since the 1960s.

“We’ve been on the forefront. We very strongly believe in the dignity of each individual person, and we have a long history of supporting civil rights kinds of issues, and issues related to human dignity,” Walker said. “It made sense. The arguments made are primarily equality- and justice-oriented.”

During the election season, Walker said, he and his congregation campaigned for marriage equality in the region. He also presided over the first same-sex union in St. Mary’s County. He said the two women, who did not wish to be identified for this article, reached out to Walker.

“I ran an ad in the paper. They saw the ad in the paper, and they wanted a religious service,” Walker said. “We developed the service, and they had it at the end of January.”

Walker said he was “very happy” to perform the wedding and that it kept with his congregation’s “unanimous stance” in favor of marriage equality.

Walker said the wedding felt no different from any other.

He said that finding support for his position in the Bible wasn’t much of a struggle. He looked at the issue for a seminary paper.

“I look at the passages in the New Testament that don’t condone homosexuality, and there’s really only one. They more condemn prostitution and victimization. I think it’s been a real eye-opener for me.”

Elsewhere in the county, two women connected at a wedding and found themselves with lasting love. Ceandra Scott and her bride-to-be, Brandi Prioleau, have been together for 4½ years.

The couple have been engaged since Nov. 7, the day after the last election, and will wed in 2015.

“Question 6 had nothing to do with our decision [to wed],” Prioleau said. “[Scott] was in Florida working the Obama campaign, so the day before was kind of crazy.”

After a day of setbacks caused by the weather, Scott arrived back in state with Prioleau. “I didn’t know why she was so set on getting back here,” Prioleau said. “But then, by the end of that night, I knew why.”

Scott had hidden the ring prior to leaving for Florida. The night she got back, the pair went to dinner at the National Harbor in Oxon Hill, where Scott proposed.

“We didn’t even make it through dinner before she said anything. She ordered a bottle of wine, and I thought that was odd,” Prioleau said. “The man hadn’t even brought the drinks back and she started crying. She’s not an emotional person, so it was weird for her to cry. When she told me what the ring meant, I started crying, and there we were both just bawling at the table. Then the man came back with the bottle, and I don’t think he expected that. We hardly ate our dinner.”

Both women said they had very traditional Christian upbringings. As such, Scott said she sometimes grapples with their relationship. Despite that, their bond has only grown through a series of personal and financial challenges.

“We made it through. There’s nothing else left to do,” Scott said. “We’ll make it through whatever else we have to go through.”

“We’ve had people who were friends of ours, family members, who are totally against the relationship,” Prioleau said.

Eventually, the two plan to move to a city and continue down their path together. Neither woman holds any hope of gaining the acceptance of their families. The two attend church together, and Scott said it has been challenging reconciling their same-sex relationship with Christian doctrine. Despite the church’s stance, Scott said she does not feel outwardly ostracized in the church, and would urge other homosexual men and women struggling to reconcile the two to attend church.

When asked if she thinks their relationship is a sin, Scott responded in the affirmative, but said it would not stop them.

“Religiously, it is a sin,” Scott said. “Through my prayer with God, spiritually I’m all right. I’ve never met someone who loved me so much. Is that right or wrong? Well, God is allowing it to operate. You can’t get me on that one.”

“The only thing that can tear us apart is us, and God,” Scott said.

The traditional view

Although he accepts the reality of sin in the world, the Rev. Steve Fehrman, pastor of Southern Calvert Baptist Church in Lusby, said he worries about the “indoctrination” of youth into “pro-gay culture” and its growing relevance in mainstream society.

Fehrman, who has presided over the church for more than six years, said he wrote a pamphlet on the proper Christian stance on same-sex marriage.

“We tried to say homosexuality isn’t a sin worse than lying or cheating, but it is wrong. It’s not God’s plan for His people,” Fehrman said, adding that the common public perception that Jesus never condemned homosexuality is wrong. Fehrman said that while the New Testament does not specifically forbid homosexuality, the original New Testament Greek word translated as “immorality” is a catch-all that encompasses it.

“Most of the media portrays gays and lesbians in a positive light, and the youth aren’t hearing the other side of it,” Fehrman said. “I pointed out that I don’t believe in discrimination or diminishing anyone’s dignity. It’s not like every Sunday, I’m up here preaching an anti-gay sermon. We love them just like we love anyone struggling with addiction.”

Fehrman said that he would urge anyone in his congregation struggling with feelings of homosexuality to receive outside Christian counseling to help counter their attraction.

“They can come to our services, but to officially be a member of our church, they can’t be openly gay,” Fehrman said. “If a person ... openly involved in an extramarital affair wanted to be let in, we wouldn’t let them in either, or a dope dealer. We don’t single anyone out, but we don’t want anyone who refuses to repent.”

Fehrman said he felt many of the arguments for same-sex marriage reduce the institution to a mere contract, and it goes beyond that in his eyes.

“It’s just another way to legitimize [homosexuality] in our culture,” Fehrman said. “I’m convinced our children are going to be indoctrinated and taught it’s just as legitimate as heterosexual marriage.”

Fehrman said he feels that views of him and his church are often misrepresented. “My actions speak louder than my words. I’d tell that person to stop being so judgmental,” Fehrman said when asked if he felt his stances were hateful to anyone. “That’s what we’re accused of most, being judgmental. I don’t discriminate. I love the sinner, and hate not only their sin, but my own.”

Tammy and Carolyn, who live in Prince Frederick and did not wish to be identified by their last name because of the nature of Carolyn’s work, have been married for three years “and three days, but who’s counting?” Carolyn said in late May.

Although they have known each other for 4½ years, it took the pair a year to finally connect, as they were both in other relationships at the time. When they did, it was nearly instant: the pair wed in the District a month and a half later.

“It was the only place it’d be legal at the time,” Tammy said. “We weren’t flying anywhere else at the time.”

So why the delay? “It took a year of her chasing me and her waking me up,” Tammy said.

Carolyn said she always knew Tammy was right for her.

“She’s funny and a lot of fun to be around,” Carolyn said. “She had a lot of the same drive and goals that I did. It’s worked out really well for us.”

Through a slew of deaths in the family and a bout with debilitating anxiety on Tammy’s part, the pair weathered the storm. They also faced difficulties buying a house. They were approved three separate times, but did not successfully purchase one until recently because, they said, no one was willing to work with them.

“We’ve had a lot of things that could’ve separated other couples, but we worked,” Carolyn said. “It gets better every day. Most people wouldn’t have made it through but we did, and it’s only getting better.”

Although there is a 20-year age difference between the two, neither woman views it as an issue.

Currently, Tammy and Carolyn are in the process of trying to have a baby together. Tammy is unable to get coverage through Carolyn’s insurance because the company is based in Kansas, where same-sex marriage is not yet legal. The pair is waiting to find out if Tammy is pregnant, but have been held up getting a doctor’s appointment. Tammy said they plan to pay out of pocket at Planned Parenthood to find out, rather than delaying.

“There’s no real protection for our marriage in any real way, shape or form,” Tammy said.

“We’ve come a long way, a lot farther … but the country is moving slow,” Carolyn added.

lrenner@somdnews.com