In his first public remarks on same-sex marriage, Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown told the Washington Blade Wednesday that he supports marriage equality for lesbians and gays and favors the approval of a same-sex marriage bill pending in the Maryland Legislature.
LGBT activists believe Brown, a Prince George’s County Democrat who is considered a potential candidate for governor in 2014, could play a key role in defending the marriage bill against a voter referendum in 2012 if the legislature passes it this year, as most political observers expect.
“I have always believed that all Marylanders should have an equality of rights and responsibilities and that includes marriage equality,” he said in an exclusive interview.
“So regardless of gender, we should be able to choose who it is that we are going to marry and hopefully spend the rest of our lives with. And so I’m supportive of that,” he said.
Brown said he has friends and acquaintances who are in same-sex relationships and he has seen first-hand how they are “successfully raising children,” a development that has helped shape his views on the marriage issue.
Brown’s expression of support for the marriage bill came on the same day that Republican State Sen. Allan Kittleman announced he was dropping plans to introduce a civil unions bill and would vote instead for the marriage bill.
Some LGBT activists viewed a civil unions bill as a possible competing measure that might have derailed the marriage bill.
The decision by Kittleman, the former Senate minority leader, to abandon plans to introduce a civil unions bill and to back the marriage measure, and Brown’s firm statement backing same-sex marriage, are likely to be viewed by LGBT activists as a major boost for the marriage measure.
Up until now, Brown had not taken a public stand on the marriage bill, although his press secretary, Mike Raia, said Brown had informed colleagues and friends of his support for the measure.
“The lieutenant governor’s statement comes as a surprise, but certainly a welcome surprise,” said Lisa Polyak, a board member and spokesperson for Equality Maryland, the statewide LGBT group leading efforts to pass the bill.
“We’re grateful for all elected officials, especially those in leadership roles, who understand that our families seek equal treatment under the law,” she said. “And we welcome the lieutenant governor’s joining the coalition to achieve civil marriage for same-sex couples.”
Gov. Martin O’Malley has said he would sign a same-sex marriage measure approved by the legislature. And most political observers in the state say supporters of the bill have the votes to get it through the legislature.
Before being named by O’Malley as his running mate in the 2006 gubernatorial race, Brown had served two terms in the Maryland House of Delegates from P.G. County. During his second term, Brown was named the House of Delegates’ majority whip, a leadership post that enabled him to build a good working relationship with his fellow lawmakers.
Noting that his job as whip involved “counting heads” to determine the support of various bills, Brown said he believes the marriage measure has solid support in the House of Delegates and appears to enjoy a “slim majority” in the Senate.
Asked what he thinks the chances are for opponents to place the marriage bill before the voters in a referendum, Brown said he believes a referendum on the issue will make it to the ballot, but he thinks voters will uphold the law rather than overturn it.
“It’s not a high hurdle in Maryland to get an issue on the ballot,” he said. “So it would be on the ballot for 2012 during the presidential campaign. There’s going to be a lot of voter turnout as we typically see in presidential campaigns. No doubt, like other referenda, it’s going to be hotly contested and debated.”
Brown added, “As I said today, my position is in support [of the marriage bill]. As we approach 2012 I’ll certainly evaluate what role I’m going to play on that issue.”
As a prominent black elected official, LGBT advocates for the marriage bill would likely seek Brown’s help in campaigning for the bill in a referendum fight in his home turf of majority black P.G. County. In California in 2008, exit polls showed that a majority of black voters supported overturning that state’s same-sex marriage law in the bitterly fought ballot measure known as Proposition 8.
“I think Prince George’s County, which is predominantly African American, should not be viewed as a monolithic entity or county or community,” Brown said. “I think we’re going to get varying degrees of support and varying degrees of opposition. We know from public comments that many of the traditional civil rights organizations have come out in support of it,” he said, referring to the same-sex marriage bill.
“We also know that a number of members of the clergy from the African-American churches have come out or spoke against it,” he said. “So there’s not a clear or I should say single voice in Prince George’s County on this issue as I suspect is true in most all of the large counties in Maryland.”
Brown was asked what he thought of assertions by Bishop Harry Jackson, a Maryland minister who led efforts to oppose D.C.’s same-sex marriage law. Jackson and his supporters, among other things, argued that same-sex unions endanger black families because they undermine traditional marriage.
“Well, my only response, and this is not a response to the impact on black families, white families, or any other families,” he said. “My response to that is I have had experience through friendships and acquaintances with couples – same-sex couples – who are successfully raising children. And that’s in a number or variety of racial or ethnic backgrounds. So I have difficulty understanding that comment.”
Brown’s official biography on the Maryland State website shows that he has served in the Army since 1984 both on active duty and currently in the reserves. He served a 10-month tour in Iraq as part of a Multi-National Force in 2004 that provided humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people. In 2007 he was promoted to the rank of colonel and, as an attorney with a degree from Harvard Law School, he currently commands a Pennsylvania-based Army Legal Support unit.
With that as a backdrop, Brown was asked what he thought of the successful effort to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the law that barred gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military.
“Well, first I’ll say I couldn’t be more proud of our president for moving forward on the elimination of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and recognizing full membership, if you will, in uniform services of men and women regardless of who they choose to be in a relationship with,” he said. “So I’m proud of that and I think it’s a big step forward for the armed forces and it’s a big step forward for our country.”
Added Brown, “And I will also say that after 26 years of active and reserve duty, I’d be kidding people if I told them that I never encountered a soldier who didn’t tell me that they were gay. And yet I have observed these soldiers performing their duty patriotically with the same level of diligence and commitment and that their preference had no relevance to their performance of their military duties.”
When asked about a transgender non-discrimination bill that was introduced last week into the House of Delegates with 55 co-sponsors, Brown didn’t disclose whether he has a position on the measure.
“I’m not familiar with that one,” he said. “I know I’ve dealt with some transgender bills when I was on the House Judiciary Committee, but this one in particular I’m not familiar with.”