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Four Decades Along the Rainbow Road

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Revisiting O'Malley's March to Equality

As the final snowflakes dissipated during newly elected governor Larry Hogan’s inauguration, I couldn’t help but think of his predecessor’s legacy on LGBT equality and what an arduous journey it was.    #hocopolitics
Signing the historic marriage equality bill into law
There was much hope on the marriage equality front with the former Mayor of Baltimore, Martin O’Malley, defeating Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr. in November 2006.  Ehrlich had stated that same-sex marriage would never take place “on his watch” and was generally unsympathetic to LGBT rights in general. Never mind that he employed two openly gay chiefs of staff during his term.

With O’Malley, however, we saw the possibility of a rainbow across the skies of Maryland.  Alas, it did not start off well. 
In his inaugural address in 2007, O’Malley said, “I take responsibility as one leader for never trying to divide our people by race, class, religion or region.”  Unfortunately, there was no mention of sexual orientation let alone gender identity.

When the Maryland Court of Appeals struck down a lower court’s ruling in September 2007 that would have granted 19 plaintiffs and consequently other gays and lesbians the right to legally marry in Maryland, O’Malley stated, “I look forward to reading the court’s full opinion, but as we move forward, those of us with the responsibility of passing and enforcing laws have an obligation to protect the rights of all individuals equally, without telling any faith how to define its sacraments. I respect the court’s decision.”

“That offensive statement represented just one of O’Malley’s tortured positions on the issue,” commented Washington Blade editor Kevin Naff.  “In 2004, O’Malley told a Baltimore TV station that, ‘I’m not opposed to civil marriages.’
“Also in 2004, he sent an e-mail to a plaintiff in the state marriage lawsuit that read, ‘I’m just supporting something I strongly believe in,’ referring to marriage equality. But by early 2006, O’Malley’s position was shifting and he said, ‘I was raised to believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. This is a fundamental issue of the state’s public policy, and a decision that ultimately should not be made by a single trial court judge.’ When confronted by gay activists after issuing that statement, O’Malley disavowed any previous support of marriage equality.”

There were few, if any, meetings between the governor and Equality Maryland, the organization that was spearheading the effort towards achieving marriage equality during O’Malley’s first term.  A leading advocate who was present at one such meeting said the governor avoided the subject.
From 2008-2010 legislation was introduced to legalize same-sex nuptials but each time the bill died in committee.  All the while O’Malley stated his support for civil unions but not same-sex marriage.

In 2010, Attorney General Douglas Gansler issued an opinion whereby Maryland would recognize the same-sex marriages legally performed in other states.  This development was a significant landmark in the ultimate road to equality.
The effort gained momentum in 2011. When the bill again was introduced in the General Assembly, O’Malley said he would sign it if passed, saying, “I have concluded that discriminating against individuals based on their sexual orientation in the context of civil marital rights is unjust. I have also concluded that treating the children of families headed by same-sex couples with lesser protections under the law than the children of families headed by heterosexual parents, is also unjust.”  Though he testified for the bill, it failed to garner enough votes to make it out of the House.

Following the passage of marriage equality in New York State in June 2011, O’Malley took a far more proactive role in the 2012 General Assembly.  Allaying the fears of religious conservatives, the bill—Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act—contained explicit language that would not force religious leaders and institutions to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies among other protections. O’Malley vocally supported the bill, testified on its behalf, and lobbied wavering legislators to vote for it.
When the governor gave the State of the State address in February, he said, “It’s not right and it’s not just that children of gay couples should have less protection than the children of other families in the state.”

O’Malley admitted that his reluctance to use the term “civil marriage” early on was based on advice given by his political advisors while he was mayor.

The bill narrowly passed both houses, and the governor joyously signed it into law on March 1, 2012.
During the ensuing Question 6 referendum battle, O’Malley pushed hard for victory as this was to become a legacy issue for him along with the Dream Act, repeal of the death penalty and other social measures, which would showcase his progressive bona fides should he decide to run for President.

He continued to press for a win to uphold the law by persuading leading clergy to support the effort. He went outside the state to raise money for the referendum campaign that was run by the Human Rights Campaign-led Marylanders for Marriage Equality coalition. 
It was clear that O’Malley was displeased by the progress the coalition was making. In August, there was only $400,000 in the coffers—a decidedly low amount considering the need to air TV commercials.  He installed Delegate Maggie McIntosh to handle the day-to-day operations as the campaign had been in disarray, and paid staff was cut by a third.  In the end, after $6 million was spent, the voters upheld the law by a 52-48 percent margin.

O’Malley admitted that his reluctance to use the term “civil marriage” early on was based on advice given by his political advisors while he was mayor.  Nonetheless, he saw the light, perhaps motivated by the passage of marriage equality in New York whose governor Andrew Cuomo was a potential rival for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016.
Regardless, we would not have won marriage equality in 2012 without him.  And the same could be said for the passage of the Fairness for All Marylanders Act in 2014.

It had been a long, hard march towards equality but Martin O’Malley finished it in style

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