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Four Decades Along the Rainbow Road

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Love is Love: Marking 10 Years of Marriage Equality in Maryland

Beginning thirty minutes after midnight on January 1, 2013, seven same-sex couples were wed at Baltimore’s City Hall. The historic event represented the first time such couples were legally permitted to marry in the state of Maryland.

Then Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who had been a fierce advocate for marriage equality during the referendum battle when 52.4% Marylanders voted “For” Question 6, opened the doors of City Hall to the nuptials.

“New Year's Day will have a new meaning for the hundreds - if not thousands - of couples who will finally have the right to marry the person they love,” said Rawlings-Blake in a statement prior to the event. “It is a remarkable achievement for Maryland, and we are excited to open City Hall to host some of the first wedding ceremonies in our great state. Newly married couples will stand before their friends and family to profess their love and commitment to each other. This is what we worked for, and I am looking forward to taking part in this historic and jubilant day.”

Many of the couples from all corners of the state who were eager to wed at the first opportunity had been in long-term relationships that have spanned ten, twenty, thirty years or more.  They had to endure society’s disapproval that was manifested at times by their government, in their families, neighborhoods, and in their workplaces while expressing a degree of commitment to each other that was no less equal or less valuable than that of legally married heterosexual couples.

Thus, when midnight approached on New Year’s Eve, members of couples—adorned in sharp suits or stunning gowns with colorful corsages and flashing smiles that could light up a small town—were ready to declare their love and commitment to their spouses-to-be as cheers and applause rang out. 

Those participating at the City Hall event were among the first same-sex couples in Maryland to wed.  A whole lot more did so the same that day and in the coming weeks, months and years.

The first couple on the list and the one that Rawlings-Blake officiated was Jim Scales and Bill Tasker.  Sadly, Jim Scales passed away on December 28, 2022, just a few days shy of the 10th anniversary after a long illness.

As I reported in the Washington Blade back then:

Jim Scales, a 40-year employee of Baltimore City and has been an office manager serving all mayors since William Donald Schaefer, and his partner Bill Tasker were the first to get married in City Hall at 12:30 a.m. on January 1. The couple who resides in Essex have been together for 35 years.  “We didn’t want to rush into this,” Scales said with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek.  They waited and waited until marriage for same-sex couples became legal in their home state. 

Tasker also showed off his sense of humor just prior to the ceremony.  “The difference between the early part of their relationship and now is that earlier we used to complete each other’s sentences.  Now we correct them.”

The idea of opening up City Hall originated by attorney [now a judge] Mark Scurti.  “I watched while Washington State and Maine celebrated marriage equality by holding weddings at city halls and courts immediately after the law went into effect and wondered what was being done in Maryland,” Scurti told the Blade.  “I inquired to a few friends of mine who work as Clerks in various county courts to find out if they were opening up at midnight; all replied no.”

Scurti reached out to a friend of his who was Mayor Rawlings-Blake's chief of staff to make the connection and inquire about the possibility.  After a few conversations with her current deputy chief of staff, they asked the mayor, and she was overjoyed with the opportunity to not only open up City Hall, but to participate in this historic event. 

Mayor Rawlings-Blake officiating the marriage ceremony
of Jim Scales and Bill Tasker

“Being a part of making marriage equality legal in Maryland since 1996 has been my motivation and drive to see that this historic date be celebrated through marriages immediately after the law goes into effect,” Scurti said.  

When marriage equality passed the referendum hurdle, Jim Scales asked the mayor to marry them.  There was no hesitation.

“I’m honored to marry Bill and Jim” the mayor said following the brief ceremony that also included a reading of a proclamation with Scurti at her side proclaiming January 1, 2013 “Marriage Equality Day. “They’re a great couple.  It’s an emotional night, incredibly meaningful.  I’m so proud of Maryland that they chose marriage equality over hate.”

The other six couples who tied the knot at City Hall were: Brigitte Ronnett and Lisa Walther; Danielle Williams and Darcea Anthony; Jamie Kraft and Sarah Vickery; Tom Rabe and Robert Coffman; Ryan Wilson and Shehan Welihindha; and William L. Countryman, Jr. and Roy Allen Neal.

Similar ceremonies took place around the state with some occurring one minute after midnight.  Some took place in such locales as Annapolis, Tilghman Island, Howard County and Cumberland.   Havre de Grace City Councilman Joseph C. Smith married his fiancĂ©e Don Starr at the city’s Concord Point Lighthouse, complete with fireworks.

Though Jim Scales is no longer with his spouse Bill Tasker to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of their legal marriage, the couple experienced the love and warmth that the many years of being together brought and enjoyed the benefits that legal marriage afforded them as they battled Jim’s illness over a long period of time.   

Winning the battle for marriage equality was the result of great effort and perseverance on the part of a multitude of individuals, elected officials and organizations. 

During these ten years, thousands of  same-sex couples in Maryland are finally receiving the same rights, recognition, benefits and responsibilities as other married couples, and that is worth celebrating.

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