Monday, January 16, 2006

Time to Play Some 'D'



Lobby Day set to rally against anti-lgbt legislation

By Steve Charing

The sports metaphors abound: "The best offense is a good defense." At basketball games, fans chant, "D-fense, D-fense." At football games, fans are seen hoisting up a combination of the big letter ‘D’ and a section of a picket fence to denote "Defense." The eloquence of legendary Case Stengel offered, "Good pitching will always stop good hitting, and vice-versa."

Even outside of sports, an emphasis on defense exists. Our government has a Defense Department—not an Offense Department—though there are more than a few who would disagree.

Defense is a key component of any strategy. Protecting your turf. Guarding your home. Learning martial arts. Buying insurance to protect your assets. You get the point?

For Maryland’s lgbt civil rights activists, a strong defense will play a significant role during the state’s 2006 General Assembly, now in full swing. The vanguard for this activity will take place on Monday, February 13 in Annapolis, where for the third consecutive year, Equality Maryland, the state’s largest lgbt advocacy organization, will hold Lobby Day.

Two years ago about 500 attended the event. Last year the crowd doubled to about a thousand. The results of the efforts of Equality Maryland and allied organizations were extremely positive as all four pro-lgbt bills were passed by the General Assembly. Unfortunately, Governor Ehrlich, in tossing a bone to his extreme right-wing supporters, vetoed two of them, including the centerpiece of the lgbt agenda, the Medical Decision-Making Act. The veto of this important piece of legislation will not be overridden. But the Governor is considering alternative provisions, though will not be as desirable as the original bill.

Organizers are looking towards another doubling of the masses on February 13, but this time the strategy will be more defensive. A potential favorable ruling in the Deane and Polyak v. Conaway lawsuit, which alleges the state’s law that marriage can be only between a man and a woman is unconstitutional, will set events in motion.

A backlash is expected from the anti-gay religious right and other extremists who are opposed to any advances by the lgbt community.

Already the virulently anti-gay delegate Donald H. Dwyer (R-Anne Arundel County) has
introduced "Maryland's Marriage Protection Act" (House Bill 48). According to an e-mail update from Equality Maryland, "This bitterly anti-gay piece of legislation is a constitutional amendment than bans more than just marriage between same-sex couples. It also states that: ‘a civil union or relationship between parties of the same sex, by whatever name or title, that confers the benefit of marriage is not valid in this state and is against the public policy of this state.’"

Clearly this bill is not about defending marriage but is also intended to deprive gays and lesbians of rights we already have achieved and pushing us backwards. It is overreaching, and that can be expected from such a bigot and his supporters. The number one goal, therefore, of this legislative session will be to ensure this attempt to strip away the protections in the law "never sees the light of day."

"We will rally to stop the constitutional amendment to ban protections for gay and lesbian families and support legislation that will legally protect our families," the Equality Maryland website proclaims.

Indeed, other legislation will be advanced, such as Medical Expense Deduction that is designed to allow an individual to take a deduction on his or her taxes for medical expenses incurred on behalf of another adult in the household. Since this legislation is not lgbt-specific, and would not benefit merely same-sex couples, there is reason to believe the bill will attract broad support.
But stopping the constitutional amendment is the principal rallying point.

Following a favorable ruling from the Baltimore Circuit Court, it is a foregone conclusion that inflammatory and sanctimonious rhetoric will likely fill the airwaves and newsprint. Says Dan Furmansky, the Executive Director of Equality Maryland, "The lgbt and allied community in Maryland has grown in strength and political clout over the past few years, which is tremendously threatening to the ‘religious right’ in our state."

It is vital that the lgbt community turns out in huge numbers at Lobby Day. Last year, for example, the Howard County chapter of PFLAG accounted for nearly 100 in the crowd. We need large organizations like the GLCCB and others to make a push to similarly get folks out there. With huge numbers of bodies present, we can make a strong impression on legislators and the media, and better make our case for equality.

"The legal and social advances we seek won't simply happen without people standing up and being counted, said Furmansky. We can change our country, one state at a time, but everyone makes a difference."

The crowd should begin assembling for Lobby Day at 4:00 p.m. at Lawyers Mall. Then a large rally will start at 5:00 p.m. when speakers will energize the crowd and show how real families are hurt by anti-gay legislation. Later, groups of rally-goers will be visiting with their respective district senators and delegates to explain their stories and make the case against such discriminatory use of the constitution.

Since the day precedes Valentine’s Day, rally-goers are asked to wear red as a sign of unity. Many plan to enjoy dinner in Annapolis’ wide array of restaurants following the rally and meetings. Everyone is urged to bring a driver’s license or other photo ID to allow entrance into the office buildings.

All the logistical information concerning the day’s activities, including transportation coordination, is posted on Equality Maryland’s website at http://www.equalitymaryland.org/ and click on "Lobby Day 2006." You can sign up at a link on the website.

This is a pivotal event. The legislative session could be bumpy and partisan especially because this is an election year. For lgbt individuals, our strength and success will be determined not only by the large number of people that participate in Lobby Day but also how well we play defense and the pressure we put on our legislators.

As Dan Furmansky put it, "The more gains we make, the more we'll have to defend them."

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