Monday, October 31, 2011

Getting Their Ducks in a Row

The recent autumn snow was a stark reminder that the 2012 General Assembly that begins in January is not far off. With it comes the hope of passing a marriage equality bill and a comprehensive gender identity non-discrimination measure. Both fell short in the 2011 session but had advanced further than any time before.

A new dimension has since been added to Maryland’s upcoming battle for marriage equality. The revised redistricting plan, drawn up by state leaders and signed by Governor O’Malley, if not overturned in court, puts the 6th Congressional District in play for Democrats for the first time since Beverly Byron last held the post in 1993. This tilt was aided by adding Democratic-rich D.C. suburbs to the district that was once confined to Western Maryland.

The 10-term incumbent Republican Roscoe Bartlett, 85, will be facing a formidable challenge from, among others, the lead sponsor of the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act, State Senate Majority Leader Rob Garagiola (D-Montgomery). Though he will be running in a district that still contains many conservatives, Sen. Garagiola will not shy away from his strong advocacy for marriage equality.

“If someone asks me a question out in Allegany County about same-sex marriage, I’m going to talk about it and explain my reasoning for it,” Sen. Garagiola told the Baltimore Sun. “Hopefully, those who are like-minded will be appreciative of it, and those who aren’t will at least understand my reasoning for it.”

Accordingly, marriage equality will be a hot button issue in 2012—not only in this congressional contest but it is also likely to find its way on the ballot should the bill be passed and signed into law during the upcoming session. A significant pushback is expected from a variety of religious and secular groups to thwart the legislation, and if that effort is unsuccessful, a petition to referendum is a virtual certainty. Marriage equality advocates must be ready to counterpunch in what could be the big election story of 2012 besides the presidential and congressional races.

Following the financial and leadership implosion by Equality Maryland—the heretofore principal LGBT rights organization in the state—a new group, Marylanders for Marriage Equality, was launched this past July to lead the effort to advance a marriage equality bill. MME is comprised of a coalition of progressive statewide and national organizations that should help raise money and muster volunteers to fight the battle.

The coalition includes the NAACP-Baltimore Chapter, SEIU, ACLU-Maryland, Progressive Maryland, Equality Maryland, Human Rights Campaign, National Black Justice Coalition, Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Family Equality Council, Catholics for Equality, Maryland Faith for Equality, PFLAG and Maryland NOW.

Equality Maryland, which is a key component of the coalition, has begun a turnaround. “From a structural standpoint, Equality Maryland is making steady, stepwise progress on the short-term strategic plan that we developed earlier this summer,” said Lisa Polyak, the acting chair of the Equality Maryland, Inc. Board of Directors. “We solidified our financial position by eliminating debt and improving our development efforts. We seated 16 new members to our Equality Maryland Foundation (C3) and Equality Maryland, Inc. (C4), and we are now in the process of screening suitable candidates for the job of Executive Director.”

She added that a significant Equality Maryland event will take place in Baltimore before the end of the year, which will be “headlined by more Maryland champions for LGBT equality.”

For its part, the umbrella organization, Marylanders of Marriage Equality, is also getting its ducks in a row. Similar to New York’s successful efforts in achieving marriage for same-sex couples, MME has so far garnered two local celebrities to advocate in videos for the cause: Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo and Baltimore native Oscar winner Mo’Nique.

"We are so grateful Baltimore native Mo'Nique is speaking out on behalf of all Maryland families," said Elbridge James of Progressive Maryland. "People from all walks of life, including gay and lesbian couples, want their children to live in a loving, stable, committed home and be protected under the law."

The video campaign is designed to raise the profile of the diverse support for civil marriage equality in advance of the 2012 legislative session. Governor O'Malley kicked off the effort last month.

MME is developing additional strategies to get the message across. “The coalition has been ramping up our grassroots efforts in recent weeks, including a Lobby Day in Annapolis, regular phone banks, which enable constituents to call their legislators, letter-writing campaigns, and using social media an as organizing tool,” said Sultan Shakir, the campaign manager for MME.”

The Lobby Day event, which occurred during the special session that produced the redistricting plan, was a targeted effort and did not include a public rally on this occasion. The coalition mobilized people of faith, parents and LGBT people to speak with their respective lawmakers about supporting civil marriage equality.

“The active participation of pro-equality supporters is vital to getting this bill over the finish line. We would encourage LGBT people to ask their moms and dads, friends and co-workers to get involved in this campaign,” said Shakir.

It’s going to require legions of volunteers and significant fundraising to realize success in the General Assembly and in the potential referendum battle. Marylanders for Marriage Equality’s coalition partners are positioning themselves to win on behalf of the LGBT community by getting their ducks in a row now.

Photo: Phone banking at the GLCCB

Courtesy of the GLCCB

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