Equality Maryland held a rally and impromptu reception in Baltimore on Wednesday to celebrate Attorney General Douglas Gansler’s opinion that the state may recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages.
The operative word is “may.”
After the celebrations and euphoric press releases have stopped, it’s back to reality for Maryland’s same-sex couples, who have grown accustomed to setbacks in the quest for relationship recognition.
In an interview with DC Agenda at Wednesday’s event in Baltimore, Morgan Meneses-Sheets, executive director of Equality Maryland, urged state residents with legal marriage licenses from other jurisdictions to start demanding various rights that come with those marriages.
“This is a thorough opinion, and more comprehensive than we expected,” she said. “Those Marylanders with valid licenses should go to their employers to have their rights recognized.”
Meneses-Sheets said she expects state agencies to begin honoring same-sex marriages immediately, but conceded that getting private entities to comply will likely require litigation.
She cited the right of partners of state workers to inherit pensions as one key area to watch. State employees, including those who work in potentially dangerous jobs like law enforcement and firefighting, cannot leave pensions to their partners. Under Gansler’s opinion, that could change, as state agencies are required to comply with state law.
“There are still questions to be answered,” Meneses-Sheets said. “But this increases momentum for full equality in Maryland.” She added that the opinion doesn’t change her group’s strategy, which likely includes pushing for a full marriage bill again in 2011, and noted the opinion “creates a better foundation for our legislative work.”
Patrick Wojahn, a state LGBT rights activist and plaintiff in a failed lawsuit seeking same-sex marriage rights in Maryland, also attended Wednesday’s celebration.
“This is a very exciting step forward in the state of Maryland,” he said. “I’m looking forward to going to D.C., making an appointment for a marriage license and returning to my home state to have it recognized.”
Wojahn was referring to the legalization of same-sex marriage in Washington, which is expected to take effect March 3, when couples may line up for license applications. There’s a brief waiting period in D.C., so the first wedding ceremonies are expected to occur March 9.
Wojahn said he and his partner, Dave Kolesar, would be willing to join another lawsuit demanding full marriage equality in Maryland “if it’s necessary.”
“The important thing to us is to have our marriage recognized in our home state,” he added.
Gansler’s opinion arrives in the middle of the legislative session, which surprised some advocates who had predicted the attorney general would wait until April when the session ends to release it. State Sen. Richard Madaleno (D-Montgomery County) requested Gansler’s review of the law nine months ago and Gansler had come under fire — from the left and right — for the delay in releasing it.
There were reports of much behind-the-scenes angst over the opinion, including what exactly it should say and even who should write it. But hopes among LGBT rights supporters were high, given Gansler’s past support for marriage equality, a sharp contrast to Gov. Martin O’Malley, who privately told gay supporters he backed marriage rights during his campaign but then denied it after the state’s high court ruled against gay and lesbian plaintiffs in 2007.
O’Malley has been wishy-washy about his personal views on marriage rights, even though a Baltimore TV station caught him endorsing same-sex marriage on camera years ago. Following Gansler’s opinion, O’Malley released a written statement saying that, “I expect all state agencies to work with the Attorney General’s office to ensure compliance with the law.” Not exactly a bold stance or ringing endorsement. O’Malley was later quoted by the Washington Examiner as saying Gansler’s opinion “makes sense.”
DC Agenda has heard reports from multiple sources that O’Malley, Gansler and even Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown have privately told prominent gay donors that they would each be willing to sign a same-sex marriage bill if the legislature can pass it. None of the sources, so far, has been willing to go on the record and Equality Maryland officials last night had no comment on those reports.
Wojahn, when asked about the reports, said, “I’d like to see them use their clout to help pass a bill in the legislature.” He added that he had not heard the reports of O’Malley, Gansler or Brown pledging to sign a marriage rights bill.