Thursday, January 28, 2010

Testimony Against HB 90

Below is the text of my testimony before the Maryland House Judiciary Committee on Jan. 28, 2010. The proposed bill would prevent Maryland from recognizing the valid same-sex marriages performed in other states or foreign countries.

Testimony: HB 90

January 27, 2010

Thank you Chairman Vallario and Vice Chair Rosenberg and your colleagues for the opportunity to speak to you this afternoon.

In 4 short days, my partner and I will be celebrating the 30th anniversary of our relationship. With a divorce rate hovering around 50%, think of the small percentage of heterosexual couples making it that far. Even though there had been no marriage document to bind us, we remained together this long because of our undying love for one another, our endless devotion and deep commitment to our relationship. In every manner except what the State law says, we are a couple.

And there are thousands of gay and lesbian couples and families throughout Maryland who share this commitment and the quest to be legally recognized. I cannot understand how providing us the rights, protections, benefits and responsibilities that an otherwise married couple receive is against the public policy of the State and its interests. Indeed, that is the purported rationale for this heinous and discriminatory bill, HB 90.

Bob and I are good, law abiding citizens. We've worked hard for many years; pay our taxes—hundreds of thousands of dollars in State taxes, in fact, during the course of our relationship. We have volunteered for years in our community and elsewhere and at our local hospital. Our heterosexual neighbors, co-workers and friends love us like family. I was proud to serve our country in the military and performed service in the civilian sector for over 30 years.

Nonetheless, in the eyes of the State, we are considered second-class citizens who are not worthy of marriage recognition here. We are not murderers, rapists, thieves, child molesters, arsonists or drug dealers. Yet that group of people has one common denominator: they have the right to marry and be recognized in Maryland as such. We can't. Is that in the best the interest of the State?

This past summer Bob and I traveled to Massachusetts to get married. We did not "sashay up to the altar" as Del. Burns would have you believe. We had a brief, dignified secular ceremony officiated by a Justice of the Peace in Provincetown—our first and favorite vacation place.

Having our union recognized in Massachusetts did not result in the catastrophic destruction of the institution as the opponents of marriage equality predict. In fact, thousands of same-sex marriage ceremonies have been performed in the state since it became legal in 2004, and guess what? Massachusetts maintains its standing as the state with the lowest divorce rate in the country. To my knowledge, not one heterosexual couple ended their marriage because of a marriage between gay men or lesbians.

While we enjoyed the sentimental and emotional connection of being married in Provincetown, we truly want to have our marriage recognized in our home state—the state we love. In every respect, we are no different from legally sanctioned married couples except that we are financially disadvantaged from the lack of government recognition.

And we want to honor our relationship in the greatest way our society has to offer, by making a public commitment to stand together in good times and bad, through all the joys and challenges family life brings.

Thank you again for this opportunity.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Window Closing Fast

Changing political climate does not bode well for LGBT progress.

By Steve Charing

Back in March 2009 when President Obama's approval rating was still gaudy, I wrote that we had a window of opportunity to secure key legislative LGBT victories. ENDA, the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," repeal of DOMA and the passage of a comprehensive hate crimes bill (recently enacted) all seemed within grasp.

The President's popularity, his campaign promises, and a more lgbt-friendly Democratic-controlled Congress created the formula for potentially historic victories in the lgbt arena. The time was right.

I also opined that we needed to seize this window of opportunity now because things can change in a hurry. In March I wrote:

"If history has taught us anything, nothing lasts forever. Mr. Obama could stumble as the economy tumbles more. He could be accused of allowing “bonus-gate” to erode an already low trajectory for consumer confidence. There could be an international crisis—somewhere, anywhere. Patience could easily wear thin. .. Anything can happen that could derail this presidency."

And so it did.

Much of the country now seems angry at President Obama and his policies. They rail against a 10% unemployment rate because he couldn't wave a magic wand to instantly fix the bleeding economy he had inherited from 8 years of Bush-Cheney. He was stuck with 2 wars, a healthcare crisis that needed mending, and giant corporations and financial institutions about to go under that would have led to a worldwide depression had there not been government intervention. In fact, had such calamities taken place, we'd be at 40% unemployment or worse.

Nonetheless, people are angry and fed up. This was evidenced in the Massachusetts debacle. The anti-incumbent fears are growing—nationally and locally—which is likely to result in a slaughter for Democrats in November unless there are dramatic improvements.
While Democrats in Congress (and the President) have been slow to act on LGBT initiatives due to other priorities, such as the economy, healthcare and national security, imagine the prospects of success with the GOP either in control or in a position to squash any progressive legislation. The Republicans win on "Gays, God and Guns."

Yes, the window is closing real fast—nationally and locally.

In Annapolis, the anti-incumbent environment will indeed affect how lawmakers react during the current General Assembly; therefore, the prospects for LGBT successes are just as dim. There is absolutely no chance whatsoever that the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act will be passed in this session even if brought to a vote.

This bill, as is the case of the measure that would offer protections based on gender expression and identity, has been tied up in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee the past few years because Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller wants to maintain, if possible, a super majority of Democrats and is loathe to bring additional controversial measures to the floor.

Moreover, lawmakers who are squeamish about marriage equality are emboldened by the actions of their counterparts in New York and New Jersey, not to mention the voters in Maine that prevented same-sex marriage from becoming a reality. They will not stick their necks out on this hot button issue. Not this year. They have enough on their plates as they grapple with the state's severe budget deficit and the political posturing that accompanies such debate.

Same-sex marriage is not an issue that will see the light of day, despite the best efforts of activists. It's simply a casualty of the political reality on the ground.

In November all delegates and senators are up for re-election, as is the governor. There could be major changes in the composition of each chamber, and there is a possibility that Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr. (or his wife Kendal) could move back into the mansion. Who would have thought that after 2006? There is an angry electorate, so anything is possible.

That doesn't mean we should give up. Far from it. We still have a chance, albeit a slight one, to make progress in 2010. But that window is closing fast in Washington as well as in Annapolis.