March 10, 2011 at 3:56 pm EDT | by Kevin Naff
Amateur hour in Maryland House

Watching the marriage equality debate unfold in the Maryland House of Delegates the past few weeks has resembled a slow-motion train wreck.

This issue of the Blade went to press Thursday morning, so it’s possible that the House got its act together and passed the bill since I wrote this. But that doesn’t change the fact that the process has been an embarrassing, amateurish mess.

We’ve watched as sponsors of the bill moved to obstruct its passage. Delegates who raked in gay money during their campaigns suddenly got cold feet and had to pray over the issue. The LGBT Caucus in the House — now seven members strong after Del. Peter Murphy came out in an exclusive Blade interview — seemed invisible compared to the leadership demonstrated by Sen. Rich Madaleno during the Senate debate and vote.

A couple of political careers likely imploded during this process, including those of Dels. Jill Carter (D-Baltimore City) and Sam Arora (D-Montgomery County). Carter and Del. Tiffany Alston stunned backers of the Civil Marriage Protection Act by staying away from a meeting of the House Judiciary Committee in which a vote on the marriage bill was scheduled to take place, and announced they would not vote on the measure until Democratic leaders paid more attention to other issues they feel are equally important. Both Carter and Alston are co-sponsors of the marriage bill. Where was House Speaker Michael Busch when we needed him to keep these selfish renegades in line?

And Arora, who campaigned as a supporter of marriage equality and accepted financial contributions from LGBT people across the state and beyond, also yanked his support, triggering a flood of angry responses on his Facebook page and calls for him to refund those donations. Arora represents liberal Montgomery County. And his betrayal represents the end of his young political career.

Meanwhile, in response to a Blade inquiry, Gov. Martin O’Malley reiterated his pledge to sign the bill — a promise he first made in a 2007 Blade interview. But then O’Malley, speaking to reporters last week, publicly endorsed a voter referendum on marriage.

“I hope the House comes together and passes this bill,” O’Malley said. “We should let the people decide.”

The first part of that statement is welcomed, but the second half is a dangerous endorsement of a process that will be expensive and divisive. We live in a representative Democracy. When the legislature votes, it is speaking on behalf of the people. Why is O’Malley embracing the idea of a referendum? This is recklessly off message for a supposedly supportive Democrat and yet another example of the two-steps-forward, two-steps-back dance we’ve seen in Annapolis.

As if the marriage debate weren’t sloppy enough, there’s the parallel consideration of a bill to bar discrimination in employment and housing based on gender identity, a long overdue expansion of a 2001 law that prohibited similar bias based on sexual orientation only.

But supporters of the bill were bracing for opposition from some transgender activists, who have expressed anger over a decision by the bill’s lead sponsor to remove a provision banning discrimination in public accommodations, such as hotels, restaurants, private health clubs and gyms. A few misguided trans bloggers — mostly from out of state — targeted the bill’s sponsor for criticism, Del. Joseline Pena-Melnyk. Pena-Melnyk is as strong an ally as LGBT Marylanders have in elected office; she has sponsored a transgender rights bill since 2007 and is more vocal and visible than any member of the LGBT Caucus on the issue. She does not deserve the wrath of activists or bloggers.

Luckily, veteran transgender advocate Dana Beyer, a former candidate for a House of Delegates seat from Montgomery County, stepped forward to support the bill. It was slated for a hearing this week and although it’s not a perfect measure, it would grant much needed protections to trans Marylanders in the areas of housing and employment. Studies show that up to 12 percent of transgender Marylanders have experienced homelessness and this bill would also cover shelters. Equality Maryland has pledged to return next year to add public accommodations.

I hope that by the time you read this, Maryland is just a governor’s signature away from enacting marriage equality. If not, the sloppy handling of the issue by the House leadership will be to blame.

Kevin Naff is editor of Washington Blade. He can be reached at

Kevin Naff is the editor and a co-owner of the Washington Blade, the nation’s oldest and most acclaimed LGBT news publication, founded in 1969.

  • Wow. All I can say is wow. Way to throw our legislators under the bus. If we lose marriage equality in Maryland, it will be because, once again, we have underestimated the resolve of those who support bigtory and oppression. This blame ourselves public whipping has got to stop. I’m embarrassed to read your op-ed.

  • Cathy,
    When do we start holding Democrats accountable? They, after all, are the ones who court our votes and — more importantly to them — our money. The knee-jerk reaction to blame the right wing and the GOP falls flat in a state where Democrats so vastly outnumber Republicans.

    Hell, even the former GOP Senate leader, Allan Kittleman, supports marriage equality. But where is the leadership, passion and public visibility of Del. Maggie McIntosh, for example? Electing these openly gay and lesbian lawmakers is a useless exercise if they don’t show up when we need them. The lead sponsor of the gender identity bill is straight.

    You should be more embarrassed that so many of our so-called allies are scrambling for cover instead of standing their ground.

    • Kevin, I hold all people accountable, but you are singling out the gay and lesbian legislators as seeming “invisible” in the House. How dare you say that. That’s shameful, and that’s what I was embarassed to see in your op-ed. Maybe you need an editor for your editorials if that wasn’t what you meant to say. As for holding our allies accountable, I totally agree – and I would also suggest that it is entirely possible that our statewide organization overplayed its hand and didn’t see this coming at session’s beginning. There will be plenty of time for post-mortem. I for one do not want to alienate folks who are allies on most of our issues, and I would caution others to exercise some restraint.

  • House leadership’s fault! Are you kidding! The right’s political hate message, the hatred encouraged by Christian church’s and continued threats of violence foment madness. Decent politicians are sucker-punched and overwhelmed by the venom they find themselves confronting in this new world of regressive politics bordering on becoming sociopathic. The hatred is the enemy, not the delegates fighting the good fight. How could you be so destructive of the very people who put themselves OUT for this cause?! Really!

  • I put a comment up over an hour ago. Was it taken down?

  • i encourage you to tune into the debate that is happening on the floor of the MD House right now. Out Delegate after Delegate has stood up with courage and passion to put a human face on this issue. The vote will be occurring in moments. I hope and pray that it goes the right way. Many people have put their careers on the line in support of this bill. Please do not marginalize their contributions to equality and fairness.

  • Kevin, never have so few worked so hard. To attack the very people who have bled, some, year after year, fighting for these rights is just obtuse. If we lose, it will be for many reasons, some we don’t, yet, even understand. Your thoughtless trashing of those who have fought, only serves to divide, which is always how the right conquers. This is never and easy battle, but since November it has been ratcheted up to a war. “Friendly fire” injury is really the lowest of betrayals. Pull yourself together.

  • I’m in league with the other transfolk opposing the bill! To once again throw us under the bus re: bathrooms, public access, etcetera puts the Ts back at the back of the bus again.

  • sounds like the antis have won- by getting the gay and trans communities at each others throats. Gay vs gay, gay vs trans trans vs trans

    We all must hang together else we we surely hang separately.

    WWW; for an expose of the churhc – now run by a former member of the hitler youth corp.

    We rarely forget the lessons of our youth

  • I do agree that Arora will be toast. His muddled flip-flop will soon not be forgotten and I have a feeling we are for some more missteps from him. When one does not have a backbone, they rarely form one very quickly. Jill Carter is a little more safe. Her constituents will likely forget her little stunt and there are probably a good number of folks that agree with her.

    O’Malley’s support for a referendum is disappointing. We all know what happens when a minority’s rights are put up for a vote. The polling is going in our favor but we all know it is who can deliver the votes.

    Mr. Naff is spot-on about keeping Democrats accountable for their actions. I think last year, national Democrats started sensing a gay backlash i.e. withholding donations until legislative goals were met. That has subsided since we had the repeal of DADT — but I honestly think that a possible boycott motivated some in Congress to support repeal. Many of our allies in the legislature support us because it is right and they should be rewarded with support. from the community. The others should know, that they cannot piss on our leg and tell us it is raining.

    Thank you for listening.

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