Thursday, February 24, 2011

Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down

By Steve Charing

There is so much stuff going on in the political arena I feel like I’m all thumbs. Clearly there are good things happening, but others not so good. What else is new? To highlight some of these, I will give my thumbs up or down on the latest news affecting our community.

Thumbs Up: Let’s start with Sen. James Brochin (Baltimore County) of the Judicial Proceedings Committee. He heard testimony from over a hundred supporters and opponents of the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act on February 8. Although he had been opposed to marriage for same-sex couples and preferred civil unions, he did an about face and came out for full marriage equality. Why? Because the arguments presented by the opponents were mean-spirited, hateful and b.s. He had enough. They are their own worst enemy.

Thumbs Down: The Senate through the amendment process on February 23 stripped the words “Religious Freedom” from the name of the bill to the “Civil Marriage Protection Act.” This was as a result of a suggestion from Senator Anthony Muse (D-Prince George’s), a consistent opponent of marriage equality. The consequence of this change is that when the inevitable referendum takes place, the revised name of the bill will hide the fact that the bill contains religious protections, which would have perhaps mitigated some opponents’ ire.

Thumbs Up: Lobby Day on February 14 went well, benefitting from unseasonably mild weather and the buzz over the real possibility of significant legislation being passed this year. A large enthusiastic crowd attended the rally, which was well organized, and coupled with the face-to-face lobbying, hopefully effective.

Thumbs Down: Although there was a good group of speakers including lead sponsors of the two signature legislative initiatives and former Equality Maryland head Dan Furmansky, there was no strong headliner to draw even more people and really stoke the crowd. In the past Judy Shepard and Bishop Eugene Robinson were welcome additions to the Lobby Day podium.

Attorney General Gansler spoke, but conspicuously absent was Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown who many are penciling in as Gansler’s primary opponent in the 2014 gubernatorial race. Brown had recently offered his public support for the marriage bill. And Gov. O’Malley would have also been an ideal headliner. What a statement that would have made. Did Equality Maryland invite these officials?

Thumbs Up: The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee voted 7-4 on February 17 to move the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act forward. It marked the first time the bill made it out of committee and onto the Senate floor for a debate and vote unless there is a filibuster. The November elections and a restructuring of the committee to include more supporters greatly improved the chances. If it passes in the Senate, it moves to the House, which is expected to go our way.

Thumbs Down: The controversy surrounding the Gender Identity Non-Discrimination Act (see front page story) has drawn passion from both sides—those who oppose the current legislation because it does not include “public accommodations” and those who want to get something passed this year even without that provision. Some have even suggested that more emphasis has been placed on the marriage bill at the expense of the gender identity measure and others reject that notion wholeheartedly. Regardless of how one stands, the discourse, for the most part, has been ugly and personal at a time our community needs to unite—all of us—LGB and T.

Thumbs Up: The B’more Proud LGBTIA Leadership Summit held on February 12 at Hopkins was a huge success (see front page story). Logistically, it could not have run better, so kudos to the committee and organizers for doing a great job.

But more importantly, it was gratifying to see nearly 300 college students from the Baltimore-DC area come together and get involved. As polls continue to show, the younger generation will help win LGBT equality as they replace the older and more conservative voters. Observing the passion and interest and their eagerness to learn about important issues justifies my optimism.

Thumbs Up: A not well-known fact is the advocacy work of the Columbia/Howard County chapter of PFLAG. What do the following three senators in Howard County have in common? Sen. Jim Robey (a former cop), Sen. Ed Kasemeyer (who besides Howard he represents a blue collar conservative constituency in Baltimore County) and Sen. Allan Kittleman (a Republican) all opposed marriage equality at some point. Now all three are planning to vote for the bill on the Senate floor.

Representatives from the PFLAG chapter doggedly met with these senators as well as county delegates (except for anti-gay Gail Bates and Warren Miller who refused meetings) over the years. Chapter members told their stories in an effort to convince concerned legislators. It has paid off, and now all three are on board.

Thumbs Down: While this is not local and not directly affecting the LGBT community, a thumbs down to Wisconsin governor Scott Walker for his union-busting tactics. It’s a cynical attempt to weaken unions so they cannot help Democrats in future elections. Keep in mind unions have traditionally been a reliable supporter of LGBT rights.

Thumbs Down: Entertainer Justin Bieber for his comment in Rolling Stone about his views on being gay. “It's everyone's own decision to do that,” declaring that it is a choice. Um, no! Better that he listen to Lady Gaga who said, “There are some people in this world that believe being gay is a choice. It’s not a choice, we’re born this way.”

But the Biebs earned a Thumbs Up when he went on to say, “It doesn't affect me and shouldn't affect anyone else.”

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