MD Gov., Marriage Advocates, Foes Prepare for Renewed Push
Maryland’s governor and a coalition of marriage equality advocates are newly organized for another attempt to bring parity to the state’s gay and lesbian families. But foes of marriage equality are also stepping up their efforts to become better organized, in order to continue denying parity to same-sex couples.
The trend reflects similar organizing efforts earlier this year by New York marriage equality advocates who, with the help of a visibly pro-marriage governor, saw that state overcome the failure in Albany two years earlier to pass a marriage equality law. The addition of New York to the states where marriage equality is legal doubled the number of American families living in places where marriage is available to everyone.
In an earlier legislative session this year, Maryland’s House of Representatives allowed a marriage equality bill to languish, foreseeing that the measure would not have the votes needed to pass despite having been approved by the state senate. But the example of leadership provided by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo inspired Maryland advocates to look to Maryland’s own governor, Martin O’Malley, to step up in a similar manner.
It’s something O’Malley has said that he will do, vowing to bring a marriage equality bill to state legislators in next year’s session.
"The governor and the advocacy groups have formed a much stronger partnership this year," a spokesperson for the governor, Raquel Guillory, told the press, according to a Sept. 24 Capital News Service article.
"We’re organizing a much stronger effort this year and we’re getting ahead of it earlier," added Guillory.
Openly lesbian State Delegate Heather Mizeur has begun working closely with a new coalition, Marylanders for Marriage Equality. With sufficient preparation, Mizeur suggested, same-sex couples stand a better chance in 2012 than they did earlier this year, when "we found ourselves in the middle of a marriage fight without a lot of preparation."
But the lessons learned in New York have not been lost on foes of equal rights and protections for the state’s gay and lesbian families. They, too, have taken steps to close ranks and coordinate their actions.
"Last time we had a loose confederation of opponents," said State Delegate and Baptist cleric Emmett C. Burns. "Now we have a tightly-knit organization with strategies, with plans, and with money to fight same sex marriage," the anti-gay cleric continued. "We have more people ... who are against it than last year."
Burns has launched efforts to create a Political Action Committee to stymie efforts at bringing marriage parity to the state. The minister has also worked in the past to roadblock equality for gay and lesbian families, sponsoring a bill that would have put marriage rights for sexual minorities up to a popular vote, as well as another measure that would have officially invalidated marriages granted to Maryland residents in other jurisdictions, even though current state law denies same-sex couples marital status.
Recent polls indicate that just over half of Marylanders--51 percent--favor marriage equality for gays and lesbians, the article noted. But similar polls in the past have indicated majority support for the rights of sexual minorities, only for voters to quash those rights once they get to the ballot box.
Polls that survey support for civil unions found a ten percent higher level of support than exists for marriage, the article added, with 61 percent in favor. But Mizeur dismissed civil unions as falling too far short of the goal of marriage equality, even though civil unions would, in theory, furnish all of the same legal protections as marriage.
"There’s no substitute when it comes to marriage," Mizeur told the media. "We can’t have ambiguity in the law that civil unions create when families try to call upon these in times of crisis."
For Burns, race as well as religion was set to play a role when the 2012 legislative session takes the matter under consideration.
"Now that the constituents, especially black constituents, know what the issues are, and know who the votes are, in terms of black delegates and senators, the religious community is galvanizing the religious forces to oppose the bill and I don’t think it’s going to pass," Burns told the press.
Spokesperson Guillory suggested that the governor’s bill, which provides protections and exemptions to churches, would have a good chance of passing once state lawmakers and their constituents knew that such protections had been built into its language.
"We have had several months to make sure that we can educate people on what the bill does and what it doesn’t do," Guillory told the media. "We want to make sure that we have the support we need for the bill this time around.
"This is an administration bill," Guillory added, going on to say that the governor "will continue to lobby individuals and educate legislators and the public on what the bill actually does."
There have already been indications that bipartisan support for marriage equality in Maryland will continue.
State Sen. Allan Kittleman, a Republican, remarked earlier this year that marriage equality was "becoming more acceptable to the Republican Party." Kittleman had lent his support to the earlier marriage equality measure.
"What happened in New York demonstrates that this is not an issue supported by one party," Kittleman added. "It’s a good message to Republican lawmakers that you can support this bill and still be a good member of this party."
Maryland legislators entertained the notion that moderate Republicans among their colleagues might be persuaded to support the measure. But a July 1 article at Gazette.net indicated that such support would not be forthcoming--not for marriage equality, anyway. One Republican lawmaker did suggest that if equality advocates were to propose civil unions, which might be more palatable to conservative lawmakers.
"I don’t see it as having a huge impact on what happens here," said State Del. C.T. Wilson. Had a vote been taken in the last legislative session, the Gazette.net article said, Wilson would have voted against marriage rights for gay and lesbian families.