Thursday, March 11, 2010

Will Our Wedding Bells Ever Ring in Maryland?






As we witness the joy of numerous gay and lesbian couples getting married in nearby Washington, D.C., we should congratulate our brothers and sisters for this monumental achievement. May their marriages be filled with all the love and commitment that their unions represent.

Another high note was Attorney General Doug Gansler's opinion last month that stated Maryland should recognize the marriages of same-sex couples that are legal in other jurisdictions. The timing was perfect: Maryland's recognition of those marriages outside the Free State came one week before the day the D.C. same-sex marriage licenses could be obtained.

This opinion was eagerly anticipated since last May. We expected a favorable outcome despite pressure from opponents because of Maryland's long-standing tradition of recognizing marriages from out-of-state that would otherwise not be valid here.

Accordingly, myself and my husband Bob (don't need to say "partner" anymore) had wed in Massachusetts last summer. Friends Stefan Freed and Sean McGovern married in Connecticut. Delegate Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery) and wife Deb did so in California. And Morgan Sheets and Rae Meneses tied the knot in Vermont.

Morgan Meneses-Sheets, as you probably know, is the executive director of Equality Maryland and is spearheading the effort to bring marriage equality to Maryland.

Scores of other Maryland couples have married in those states as well as in Canada, South Africa and countries in Europe that allow same-sex marriage with the hope that they would be recognized by the state government here. And now we can expect hundreds, if not thousands of couples to make the short trip to D.C. to follow suit.

In doing so, they will spend a boatload of dollars for wedding-related expenses, such as receptions, flowers, music, hotel rooms, restaurants, and gifts that could have been spent here to lift the ailing economy. Washington, D.C. will have reaped the rewards instead. The nonpartisan Williams Institute of UCLA had calculated that same-sex marriage in Maryland would result in over a $2 million annual boost to the economy.


Now that Gansler's opinion has been released, the logical question is, will marriages involving same-sex couples ever take place in Maryland, and if so, when?

Although Maryland is a "blue" state with a 2 to 1 Democratic identity and has huge majorities in both legislative chambers with a Democratic governor, it tends to be somewhat conservative on social issues. Aaron C. Davis opined in the Washington Post that the conservative Democrats are impeding progress on same-sex marriage here.

"Democrats are hesitant to embrace many progressive social policies, lest they upset the state's many Catholics, evangelicals and others with deep religious convictions," he wrote.

We have found that resistance among Democratic legislators who are either ministers themselves or who have strong ties to the black churches in and around Baltimore City and Prince George's county. Senator Anthony C. Muse from Prince George's, for example, consistently stands in the way of the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act from moving out of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee to the floor for a debate and a vote. He applied the same headlock to a bill that would grant transgendered individuals the same protections from discrimination that other citizens enjoy.

Norman R. Stone, Jr., a conservative Democrat from Baltimore County is another nemesis to the lgbt community. He is a sponsor of the Senate bill that would do what Del. Emmet Burns' bill failed to accomplish in the House and that is to prevent Maryland from recognizing those same-sex marriages that Gansler's opinion would allow.

But the real roadblock is perennial Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Calvert). He mentioned retirement not that long ago, but the power he commands is too gratifying to simply hand over to a lesser being.

Miller constructs the committees. He eschews controversial issues on the Senate floor. He hates filibusters, and he doesn't want to do anything that would erode the Democratic majority in the Senate. So, if Mike Miller does not want same-sex marriage to progress, it won't, regardless of the occupant in the Governor's Mansion.

On the day that Gansler issued his opinion, Miller reassured the press that "gay marriage" is not legal in Maryland, and that will not change "anytime soon."

"This has to stop," says lgbt activist Dr. Dana Beyer." If our state is going to prosper, the only way to change that leadership is to elect real progressives with the courage to inspire and mobilize that progressive majority to get the job done. A progressive legislature will elect progressive leadership."

Dr. Beyer is right on the money. We have to actively try to run and support gay or gay-friendly candidates in Democratic districts where there are conservative incumbents. Equality Maryland is amassing a sizable PAC. I hope they direct those funds to unseat the Muses and the Stones of the legislature. The PAC money ought to help gay-friendly Democratic candidates gain winnable seats, such as in District 9A (Western Howard County), which are currently occupied by two anti-gay Republicans.

Moreover, Equality Maryland needs to maintain an ongoing official dialogue with the Governor and legislative leaders. Election year is all the more reason to keep the pressure on because as soon as the 2010 General Assembly is completed, these politicians will not only be trolling for votes but donations as well. Yes, we do have leverage.

We must also keep our LGBT youth and allies engaged and not discouraged. They will be replacing the older, more conservative voters and the key to eventual victory.

And Equality Maryland should continue its excellent work in building coalitions with gay-supportive clergy, African-Americans, and other groups around the state to mobilize public opinion in our favor.

If all these things come to pass, it will just be a matter of time.

www.SteveCharing.blogspot.com.

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