ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Buoyed by the real prospects of achieving marriage equality in Maryland in 2011, an enthusiastic crowd estimated to be at least 500 jammed Lawyer’s Mall for the annual Equality Maryland-organized Lobby Day rally on Monday.
Two signature bills — the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act (SB 116) and the Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination Act (HB 235) — are making their way through the legislative process during the current General Assembly.
The news that Sens. Ed Kasemeyer (Howard, Baltimore County) and Kathy Klausmeier (Baltimore City, Baltimore County) announced their support for the marriage bill earlier in the day was met with a loud cheer.
Groups opposing marriage rights for same-sex couples, such as the National Organization for Marriage are expected to hold their own rally next week.
After brief introductory remarks by Equality Maryland’s executive director Morgan Meneses-Sheets, Senate Majority Leader Rob Garagiola (Montgomery County), lead sponsor of SB 116 told the crowd, “As we celebrate Valentine’s Day, no one can argue that the capacity and bond of love is any different between heterosexual and same-sex couples.”
House Majority Leader Kumar Barve (Montgomery County), lead sponsor of the House version of the marriage equality bill (HB 175), followed.
“I am very proud to be a sponsor of this legislation and SB 116/HB 175 is a testament to what it means to be an American and what it means to be free and equal in our society,” he told the crowd.
Other speakers included Del. Ariana Kelly (Montgomery County), lead sponsor of the gender identity non-discrimination bill; Attorney General Douglas Gansler; and Sandy Rawls, founder of Trans-United, a transgender advocacy group.
The final speaker was former Equality Maryland director Dan Furmansky. “Right now we can literally feel the winds of change upon us,” he said. “Today we are part of a much broader movement …we now are the leaders in this movement and we will be next state for marriage equality.”
The Lobby Day event was bolstered by unusually mild weather. Following the rally, participants broke off according to their own legislative districts to visit with senators and delegates to press the two bills in pre-scheduled meetings.