Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Rep. Cummings Could Make the Difference

Rep. Elijah Cummings
We are fast approaching the November 6 election and all that goes with it.  
Included among several ballot initiatives is the referendum on marriage equality.  The actual language for Question 6 reads as follows: Establishes that Maryland’s civil marriage laws allow gay and lesbian couples to obtain a civil marriage license, provided they are not otherwise prohibited from marrying; protects clergy from having to perform any particular marriage ceremony in violation of their religious beliefs; affirms that each religious faith has exclusive control over its own theological doctrine regarding who may marry within that faith; and provides that religious organizations and certain related entities are not required to provide goods, services, or benefits to an individual related to the celebration or promotion of marriage in violation of their religious beliefs.”

Both sides are amping up the message war that will befall us up to Election Day.  They will have to scratch out limited air time to compete with the gambling question, political candidate ads and the ubiquitous Luna commercials.

Polls have indicated positive support for defending the Civil Marriage Protection Act that was signed into law in March.  One would be wise, however, to view the poll numbers with caution, if not skepticism, as people tend to respond in “politically correct” ways when social issues are put before them.
One thing is very clear: the African-American vote in Maryland is likely to be crucial on Question 6.  When California voters in 2008 upheld Proposition 8, which defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman, the conventional wisdom at the time incorrectly blamed black voters for the disappointing outcome.  It should be noted that African-Americans in California comprise less than 10 percent of the population; they did not have a significant impact on the result.  It was more generational.

In Maryland, it is expected that blacks will account for at least 25 percent of the voters, especially with an African-American president who is seeking reelection on the ballot.  Turnout will be high, so gaining support among African-Americans for marriage equality will be crucial here.

There are several reasons to be optimistic in the Maryland vote that were not evident in California four years ago.  There has been a discernible upward trending by the public over the past few years favoring same-sex marriage.  Perhaps significant here is President Obama’s public support for marriage equality.  Religious African-Americans may still not share the president’s views on this matter and will likely vote “No,” but non-religious blacks may be convinced on the merits of the fairness argument the president offered.
Moreover, the national NAACP led by its president Benjamin Jealous, also came out in favor of marriage equality that could have a reinforcing effect.

But as esteemed as these individuals and organizations are, especially in the African-American community, a more local official with a high level of respect and standing could be a difference-maker.  And that individual is Democratic Representative Elijah Cummings.
We need Rep. Cummings to step forward and support marriage equality.  Until now, he has stated he would not oppose the Maryland congressional delegation’s backing of marriage equality, but he has not joined the team.  He decided to leave the matter to the voters.

Rep. Cummings, who has represented Maryland’s 7th Congressional District since 1996 covering Baltimore City and parts of Howard County, left an opening, though.  In a statement dated June 27, he said, “Like many of my friends and colleagues, I have been on a journey when it comes to supporting same-sex marriage. When you come from a religious background where you’ve been taught all your life that marriage is between a man and a woman, and then you find yourself looking at how a society is changing and how many in your own community are seeing the issue in terms of fairness and equality, it makes you re-think your position.”

If anyone ever attended an event where Rep. Cummings is a speaker, you will know how this man is filled with passion, displays great oratory gifts, and could coax a mountain lion off a mountain.   He also has strong ties to his church, which could be influential among religious voters. 
It would be a difficult decision for him, especially in light of his solid relationships with African-American pastors.   But Rep. Cummings also has plenty of political cover.  For one thing, he has a safe seat whereby he has garnered no less than three quarters of the vote in any election. 

The President of the United States, who had supported civil unions as does Rep. Cummings, backs same-sex marriage completing his evolution on the issue.  The national Democratic Party included marriage equality as part of the 2012 platform.  Maryland’s governor Martin O’Malley has emerged as a strong advocate.  So have both Senators and most of Maryland’s congressional caucus.  Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has been supportive even before she held the position.  And the list goes on.
Leading civil rights icons have lent their support as well.  Among the most noteworthy was the late Coretta Scott King.  “Homophobia is like racism and anti-Semitism,” she said... “in that it seeks to dehumanize a large group of people, to deny their humanity, their dignity and personhood.”

Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), a long-time soldier in the battle for civil rights, is another staunch supporter of marriage equality as are the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton—admired leaders in the African-American community.
And former NAACP head Julian Bond recently penned an op-ed in the Afro-American where he argued that marriage equality in Maryland is good for black gay and lesbian couples.  “There are thousands of African Americans - our brothers and sisters, cousins, neighbors, and co-workers – who are gay, in committed relationships, and want to marry,” Mr. Bond points out.

Rep. Cummings would be the perfect person to join in support.  An individual of his stature persuading people that marriage equality is right would go a long way towards defending the bill in November’s referendum.
To contact Rep. Elijah Cummings, visit here

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