COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Equality Maryland officially gave its endorsement to Gov. Martin O’Malley at its ninth annual signature gala Sunday night.
“The governor has a strong record from his days on the City Council, as mayor and as governor,” Morgan Meneses-Sheets, executive director of Equality Maryland, said in endorsing O’Malley in next week’s election. “The choice is clear – the former governor who did not even believe that same-sex couples should be able to visit each other in the hospital or our current governor who has pledged to sign both of our key initiatives?”
O’Malley, a Democrat, who is running for re-election against former Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich, was one of the special guests at the gala, which was held at the Samuel Riggs Alumni Center at the University of Maryland in College Park.
“Two different governors, two different choices,” O’Malley repeated throughout his speech to nearly 400 attendees, referring to policy decisions made by Ehrlich and his decisions on the same topics, such as hospital visitation rights. “I’m running against the alternative.”
Each time O’Malley mentioned his opponent’s name, attendees showed their displeasure by hissing in response. He urged everyone to vote and to make sure their friends and family vote as well.
“Do not believe these polls,” O’Malley said, adding they were only accurate if everyone actually went out and voted.
The governor addressed same-sex marriage during a debate last week with Ehrlich sponsored by the Washington Post.
“I stood with [Attorney General] Doug Gansler on recognizing out-of-state marriages,” O’Malley said. “When the General Assembly passes an equality bill, a bill regardless of labels, that protects equal rights, I will sign it so long as it has religious protections.”
O’Malley has a complicated history on marriage rights. After initially supporting marriage equality, he backtracked in 2007, after the state high court ruled against same-sex marriage in Maryland. That year, he told the Blade in an exclusive interview that he supported civil unions but would sign a marriage equality bill if the legislature passed it. He has reiterated that pledge during this year’s campaign, while maintaining his support for civil unions.
The audience seemed happy about O’Malley’s remarks, cheering and clapping throughout his speech.
“I was pleased. He specifically mentioned his commitment to ensuring that the state’s anti-bullying law is fully enforced, which in light of the tragic deaths of so many young, LGBT people in recent months is more important than ever,” Meneses-Sheets said. “ But most important, he talked about equal treatment under the law for all Marylanders and all families.”
O’Malley mentioned Tyler Clementi in his speech before reminding attendees that he signed a bill creating an anti-bullying policy in 2008, which set standards for all public school systems in the state.
O’Malley did not take questions from the media after his speech.
Gansler followed O’Malley and gave a short speech, saying the governor and his wife are 100 percent behind the issues Equality Maryland is fighting for.
Gansler received a standing ovation when after saying it was great that out-of-state marriages were recognized, added, “It is absurd people can’t get married here in Maryland.”
Lea Gilmore and Scott Davenport were both honored at the gala as part of the program. Gilmore was awarded Ally of the Year and her husband accepted the award, reading an e-mail she sent from Germany.
Davenport, president of Equality Maryland, received the Legacy Award for his work with the organization and outside of it.
“Trust me, everything can be fixed, I know that, I have kids,” Davenport joked when he dropped his award and it broke.
Davenport also donated $20,000 to hire a lobbyist for the upcoming legislative session, on the condition that the organization raise funds to match his donation.
Immediately after this announcement, attendees began shouting out donation amounts, including Meneses-Sheets.
They raised at least $20,500 from those donations. Equality Maryland is still working on figuring out how much was raised from tickets to the event and the silent auction.
Officials from Equality Maryland described the event as a success.
“The room was bursting at the seams,” Meneses-Sheets said. “We had more state and local lawmakers than ever come out and stand with us. We had a great program demonstrating our ties to communities of faith, communities of color, labor and our statewide elected officials. But most important, people had fun and left inspired to keep up the fight.”