Earlier this week, I debated marriage equality on a radio show in Baltimore. The other guests on the show were Mary Ellen Russell, head of the Maryland Catholic Conference, Derek McCoy, president of the Maryland Family Alliance and the former GOP Senate leader in the state.
It seemed I would be outgunned and outnumbered — a Catholic, a pro-family blowhard and a Republican politician versus the lone gay journalist. But my trepidation about the interview quickly melted away when the Republican turned out to be Sen. Allan Kittleman, who broke with his party and endorsed marriage equality. And when Russell and McCoy spoke, their arguments were so hollow and specious that batting them away was effortless. To make matters even easier, the host and all of the callers had my back.
Russell focused on procreation and the importance of child rearing to the institution of marriage. McCoy adamantly opposes same-sex marriage because it would necessitate teaching schoolchildren about gay relationships.
When I asked Russell if the Catholic Conference advocates for rescinding marriage rights for infertile couples, she fell silent. And I reminded McCoy that same-sex marriage is already being taught in schools because it’s legal in five states and D.C., along with a growing list of foreign countries.
There was no shouting or name calling; no one got emotional. The debate, if you can call it that, was a real let down and a microcosm of what’s happening in communities across the country over the issue of relationship recognition for same-sex couples.
From Maryland, which appears poised to legalize full marriage rights in the coming months, to Hawaii, where the House overwhelmingly approved a civil union bill, the debates are less rancorous, the polls less lopsided and the politicians less fearful of standing up for equality. This week, lawmakers in Washington State introduced a marriage equality bill; Freedom to Marry launched a major national advertising campaign promoting marriage rights; and a new poll in New Hampshire found that 63 percent of voters have no appetite for repealing marriage equality there.
When Kittleman realized his own civil union bill stood no chance of passing, he ditched it and simply endorsed marriage. He said this week that the reaction from Republican friends and constituents was surprisingly low-key, even supportive. And Kittleman isn’t alone among state Republicans. Chrysovalantis P. Kefalas, deputy legal counsel to former Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), said he considers marriage equality to be consistent with the Republican principle of limited government.
Make no mistake that opponents of marriage rights remain active and vocal, but they are increasingly shrill and seen as being on the wrong side of history. At a Senate committee hearing in Maryland last week, opponents showed up in significant numbers to testify against marriage rights.
One witness made national headlines when he warned that extending marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples would open the door to human-robot weddings. Robert Broadus, from Protect Maryland Marriage, said, “If you pass this bill, you will set the groundwork, that one day when artificial intelligence is that advanced, we will be considering whether or not people can marry their androids. … If you say that any two people who love each other can get married, then you set that precedent.” He wasn’t joking. Broadus referenced “Stark Trek’s” Lieutenant Commander Data’s ability to shed tears and added, “You laugh, but it’s true.”
Other witnesses compared same-sex relationships to pedophilia and incest. “Where do we draw the lines? What comes next? If a man loses his wife to a premature death, shouldn’t he be allowed to marry his daughter, or son, or both,” said Gerard Selby.
In response to that ugly, homophobic testimony, Sen. Edward Kasemeyer, who represents a conservative district and had previously declined to reveal his position on the issue, announced he would vote for the marriage bill.
As the Senate inches closer to a vote, the concerns about a protracted, pitched battle have given way to a sense of inevitability. Maryland’s lieutenant governor, attorney general and former Senate minority leader have all spoken publicly about their support for marriage equality. Gov. Martin O’Malley remains a holdout, but pledged in a 2007 interview with the Blade to sign a marriage bill if lawmakers send it to his desk. A public endorsement from O’Malley would be welcome and history’s judgment would be more favorable to him if he spoke out now. But enough elected officials have found the courage to speak out and stand up for justice that O’Malley finds himself on the sidelines in this debate, which is where he is most comfortable. A profile in courage, O’Malley ain’t.
With more and more Americans accepting our relationships, opponents of equality will continue to find themselves outnumbered and relegated to the sidelines. It’s inspiring and surreal to watch. As Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler has repeatedly said, in another 20 years, all 50 states will have marriage equality. It’s inevitable.
Kevin Naff is editor of Washington Blade. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.