By Steve Charing
As we lose at the ballot box and in state legislatures, we pick up some valuable lessons in our quest for marriage equality in Maryland.
Legislators in Maine earlier in the year approved same-sex marriage and the governor signed it into law, only to have it undone by referendum. That vote in November stripped marriage equality from the state’s LGBT couples. From this we learned that winning marriage equality at the ballot box is a long way off, if it ever happens, and it should be avoided at all costs.
Even with fewer resources (as was the case in Maine) our opponents seem to effectively launch smear campaigns against LGBT couples. Through the use of advertisements, letter writing and e-mail blasts, they lie with impunity concerning our relationships. They rally religious institutions to preach against us. They scare neighbors. They scare educators. Ultimately they scare the voters who buy into this hooey. And since there are far more straight people than LGBT folks and allies, we would be well served to avoid allowing minority rights to be put to a popular vote. The numbers aren’t there yet for us.
Where do we go? Ballot initiatives are out of the question. The judiciary, sensitive to the fictitious label of “activist judges,” is resistant to accepting individual lawsuits plus the legal machinations of these can take eons.
We move on to state legislatures, which, in theory, reflect the attitudes and positions of the electorate. Lawmakers are political animals and are sensitive to the movement of the political winds.
When we were losing the image war in 2004 over gay marriage, politicians—including most Democrats—jumped out of the way as if a wayward bus was driving on the sidewalk. We lost every ballot measure that election and gave politicians the cover to avoid the subject.
Things started to improve slightly as the experience in Massachusetts—the first state to legalize same-sex marriage—proved that the predicted destruction of civilization failed to materialize.
In New York, it seemed that we were on the precipice of adding another state to the five whom have seen the light. The state’s Assembly voted several times in favor of legalizing marriage for same-sex couples. But a handful of Democrats in the state Senate changed their minds and voted against the bill. By a vote of 24-38, the Senate killed the measure that Gov. Paterson was eager to sign into law.
Of course, no Republican voted for marriage equality and proponents of same-sex marriage had counted on the eight Dems who bailed. This defeat occurred despite a recent Marist College poll showed that 51 percent of New York voters support legalizing same-sex marriage while 42 percent opposed it.
Following the vote on December 2, Alan Van Capelle, executive director of the Empire Pride Agenda who pushed for the bill said they now have a road map for 2010. “We certainly know who are our friends. We certainly go to bed tonight knowing where our support is, and that’s a victory,” he said.
And that’s our lesson.
In Maryland we have been completely stymied by the fact that the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act and its predecessor bill has yet to make it through the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. This, despite the fact we have a Democratic governor, Democratic leaders in both the House and Senate and an overwhelming majority of Democrats in each chamber. That committee has also been responsible for applying a stranglehold on transgender protection legislation.
By keeping the marriage bill as well as the transgender measure bottled up in committee, we are deprived of an up-and-down vote to determine who our friends—and our enemies—really are.
Those close to the legislative process believe that Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller wants to keep it that way because he is loathe to see such a potentially contentious and divisive bill make it to the floor.
But we need to help shake it loose during the 2010 General Assembly, which will begin next month. As a community, we must support Equality Maryland’s efforts to free the bill from being held hostage by the Judicial Proceedings Committee.
We will be told that it is an election year and little will happen on the marriage front because of it. That song is getting old. Because it IS an election year, there is all the more reason to put pressure on the lawmakers, especially Democrats, as they will be trolling for contributions and ultimately votes later in the year.
Check out Equality Maryland's website to obtain contact information on the committees’ chairmen and members. We must barrage these people with phone calls and e-mails to make things happen.
Don’t depend on Equality Maryland to do all the heavy lifting.Grass roots organizing will be essential to accomplish our mission. At the very least, we must push for these bills to leave the shadows of the committee and make its way on the floors of the Senate and House so that the spotlight can shine on the legislators who must go on record with a vote.
That should be our immediate strategy and a lesson well learned from N.Y.