By Steve Charing
When Governor Martin O'Malley concluded his remarks to the over 360 in attendance at Equality Maryland's annual fall fundraiser in College Park, the crowd responded with a generous round of applause. It was an effective campaign speech that was tailored to the LGBT audience. Seldom, if ever, did he ever discuss LGBT issues on the trail.
Appearing at the gala just 9 days before Election Day, he deftly drew contrasts between his positions on LGBT rights and that of his opponent, Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr. “Two different governors, two different choices” was the theme. "I'm running against the alternative," the Governor affirmed. (These sharp contrasts led to Baltimore OUTloud's endorsement of Governor O'Malley's re-election on October 22—among the first newspapers in the state to do so.)
While the clapping continued as the Governor descended from the podium, some of the activists in the audience had to notice that the speech broke no new ground. Governor O'Malley reiterated his position that he would sign a marriage equality bill on the condition that it contained "religious protections." He also stated that Maryland "can and should" pass a bill that would offer anti-discrimination protections on the basis of gender identity and expression.
What was missing from his remarks was a full-throated endorsement of marriage for same-sex couples. That would have made news and upgraded his current position of favoring civil unions.
There is a difference between being proactive and being reactive. There is a difference between going out on a limb for a cause (like his fervent attempt to repeal the death penalty) and waiting for legislators to grind it out in the muck and then signing a bill.
He did not make such a declaration even to a LGBT/friendly audience that had a good number of other elected officials, including potential 2014 gubernatorial candidate, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, in attendance. Cautious not to alter the trajectory nearing the election, the Governor remained passive on the issue.
Leadership and courage –that's what we're asking for. Stop worrying about the religious protections, Governor. They have been in the bill for three years. Even the Baltimore Sun argued O'Malley should take a stronger stand, referring to marriage equality as a "key civil rights issue."
But O'Malley's passivity could all change if effectively lobbied.
O'Malley has won re-election and can serve his second term without the encumbrances of another campaign—at least for Governor. Recall how then Governor Parris Glendening in his second term and an approval rating as low as the Titanic's wreckage, managed to push through the hard-fought Anti-Discrimination Act of 2001 that offered key statewide protections to lesbians and gays. It would be a terrific addition to the O'Malley legacy if these landmark equality bills were enacted, but he needs to advocate for passage, not wait.
"We are on the cusp of pushing through gender identity protections and marriage equality."
That is the mantra repeated in a slew of fundraising e-mail blasts and press releases from Equality Maryland, the organization that has been the vanguard on LGBT issues in the state. Indeed, we do have momentum—or we should have—following the issuance of Mr. Gansler's opinion last February which concluded that Maryland should recognize the marriages of same-sex couples validly performed in other jurisdictions. Soon after, neighboring Washington, D.C. legalized marriages for same-sex couples.
But nothing of that nature materialized in 2010 for the nearly 16,000 gay and lesbian couples in Maryland. It was deemed a "transition year" by Equality Maryland, and their belief was that during an election year our legislature would not be keen on taking up the issue. This despite the fact that one Maryland couple after another trudged to D.C. (or elsewhere) to tie the knot, and dollars that could have boosted Maryland's sagging economy from wedding-related expenses were spent outside the state's borders.
Now is the time to act. There is no statewide election for four years. There is no "transition year." There is no re-election campaign.
Winning over legislators in both houses is crucial, of course. But why not try to meet with the leaders—Michael Busch, Thomas V. "Mike" Miller, and O'Malley himself? Hire a paid lobbyist or two to free this legislation out of the prison known as the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. If a bill isn't sent to the Governor, he can't sign one.
Despite the fact Equality Maryland has had three different executive directors during the past three years, the organization is stable and positioned to lead the fight. Equality Maryland should be well-financed to help achieve its goals. Former development director, Kevin Walling told Baltimore OUTloud upon announcing his departure in September that he helped raise an estimated $500,000 through grants, increased foundation gifts and general fundraising during his stint of less than two years.
The College Park gala was hailed a "success," and according to a report in the Washington Blade, raised an additional $20,500 beyond the receipts for the tickets and silent auction. Local bars and events have boosted Equality Maryland's coffers with a number of fundraisers. Moreover, their ongoing post card campaign has enabled the organization to expand its mailing list for future fundraising efforts.
Most importantly, Equality Maryland's leadership and staff are strong. The current director, Morgan-Meneses-Sheets, is an affable, high-tempo, hard-working leader who is capable of making LGBT equality history during the next couple of years.
We can't predict what lies ahead in 2014. Who anticipated that in two short years this country's political landscape would shift so dramatically? Let's see results on the two main issues—marriage equality and gender identity protections now—while we can.
As Equality Maryland, points out, "we're on the cusp." The ball is in their court, and now it's time to deliver.