- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
BALTIMORE — Gay marriage advocates are hoping Gov. Martin O’Malley will support them publicly, potentially bringing more attention to their cause and winning over the few votes that kept Maryland from legalizing same-sex marriage earlier this year.
Vocal support from the governor could encourage the few lawmakers who thwarted passage of a same-sex measure to cast favorable votes when the legislature re-examines the issue next winter, observers said.
“I think that would really help build our chances next session if the governor was one of the chief people advocating for this bill vocally,” said Darrell Carrington, an Annapolis lobbyist who served on the board of directors for Equality Maryland, a gay rights group that championed the legislation earlier this year. “That would have a huge effect on the outcome.”
During the 2011 session, O’Malley (D) pledged to sign the bill but did not often publicly advocate for it. The passage of a marriage bill in New York earlier this month was credited in large measure to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s support.
It is unclear how much O’Malley will speak out on the issue and whether he will add a gay-marriage proposal to his legislative agenda, Takirra Winfield, a governor’s office spokeswoman, said last week.
“I think that’s also part of the discussions right now,” she said. “What is exactly the best strategy to make this successful? This is not something he is suddenly paying more attention to. He has always been supportive and always said if a bill crosses his desk, he will sign it.”
Lawmakers who back the issue said during a news conference July 12 that same-sex legislation could be on the table when the legislature convenes in October for a special session to address congressional reapportionment.
“We are considering whether or not we should bring it up in the special session,” said Del. Maggie L. McIntosh (D-Baltimore), an openly gay member of the House. “That decision really falls, I think, with the governor, president of the Senate and the speaker of the House.”
She added that the issue probably will be put off until January, when the General Assembly convenes its 2012 session, unless during the special session “there’s an appetite to do more than the congressional maps.”
“Either way, we believe that we’re going to have the votes that we need to pass this in the House this year,” McIntosh said.
Sue Hyde, chairwoman of the MassEquality Education Fund board of directors, said the key to getting Massachusetts lawmakers to vote down a constitutional amendment that would have outlawed same-sex marriage in 2007 was letting legislators know her group would protect them politically.
“The legislators have to be confident that we will stand with them, and if they’re not confident of that, then there are some [legislators] that [think], ‘I can’t take this vote; I can’t risk my elected position,’” Hyde said.
Carrington, who resigned from Equality Maryland this summer after the group fired its executive director and faced a financial crisis that left its future in question, said the legislative makeup, altered by the 2010 election, meant advocates had to make a quick pivot on their agenda for 2011.
An increase in the number of liberal members on the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee propelled the legislation to the full chamber, where, in a surprise to many, it passed. The bill faltered and began losing steam in the House Judiciary Committee, which eventually moved it to the full House, only to have it die on the floor.
“Before the composition of the legislature changed and that key [Senate Judicial Proceedings] committee [changed], no one knew that we would be able to go over marriage in the legislature the way we were able to,” Carrington said.
Lisa M. Polyak, secretary for Equality Maryland’s board of directors, said the group has regained financial solvency, repaid its debts — which included $10,000 in polling costs — and now is banking money to pay an executive director that it hopes to hire in the fall.
She did not say whether the group’s financial and staffing turmoil would have impaired its ability to lead the charge for same-sex marriage next year, but said she is glad more advocacy organizations are lending their names to the effort.
Progressive Maryland, a liberal lobbying group that previously had not gotten behind the initiative, is leading a coalition of advocates that includes representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Service Employees International Union and church groups.
“These groups who are now with us by name have been with us in personal relationship for years,” Polyak said.
In a June interview, Hyde said a strong lobbying group will be crucial for the gay-marriage cause.
“It is key to have a healthy, robust, well-resourced lead political organization when we are dealing with any issue about [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered] people,” she said. “I think, in particular, marriage because elected officials think of it as a third rail.”
Rion Dennis, executive director of Progressive Maryland, said of his group taking a lead outreach role, “Last year, we just basically took our marching orders from the rest of the coalition. This year, we’re making it a little more of a priority for us.”
Dennis said the governor’s voice would be helpful, but his organization will focus on influencing lawmakers via their constituents.
“If there’s one thing we have a track history of it’s working the districts to move bills,” Dennis said. “I think a lot of times legislators, they wait for the governor to give them a call, and really this is going to be about constituents in the districts coming out and letting their legislators know this is the kind of Maryland that they want.”
However, the Maryland Catholic Conference, which adamantly opposed the gay-marriage bill, was quick to issue a statement Tuesday following the announcement of the coalition in support of the effort.
“As we approach the 2012 legislative session, we continue to urge all sides and groups to discuss and debate the redefinition of marriage with respect, recognizing that we are all children of God,” group spokeswoman Kathy Dempsey said in a written statement.