March 21, 2011 | by Staff reports
Standing by decision to delay marriage vote

By CHUCK BUTLER & PATRICK WOJAHN

On March 11, the Maryland House of Delegates voted to “recommit” the bill that would have provided marriage equality to same-sex couples, sending the legislation back to committee and effectively ending its chance for passage this year. This came as a bitter disappointment to all who had worked to achieve equal marriage rights in Maryland. As the chairs of Equality Maryland, we take full responsibility for the decision to recommit, and stand by that decision.  We want to explain why we believe that, given the circumstances, sending the bill back to committee was the best course of action.

First, let’s put what happened in perspective. Never before have we reached the level of success that we achieved this year in moving marriage legislation through the General Assembly. For the first time ever, the marriage bill made it through committees in both houses of the legislature, passed the Senate and was debated in the House.

At the same time, in the last election, the House of Delegates lost six Democrats, five of whom firmly supported marriage equality. For this reason, we knew that the House would pose a bigger challenge than the Senate in enacting marriage legislation.

It’s understandable that because the marriage bill moved so swiftly through the Senate, many thought the bill would sail through the House. For several reasons, including the results of last year’s election, this didn’t happen. The night before the March 11 vote, House leaders informed us that the bill did not have the 71 votes necessary for passage. They made clear two key issues: first, as time went on, the bill was losing support; second, if the House voted on the bill, certain Delegates who might take a risky “yes” vote to pass a meaningful piece of legislation would vote “no” because they knew the bill would fail. So rather than garnering 68 or 69 votes – still short of the 71 needed – the bill could be defeated with only 50-some votes in support.

We spent the night in discussions among Equality Maryland board and staff, members of the Assembly’s LGBT Caucus, and our national partner organizations, trying to find a way to save the bill. Everyone realized that if the legislature passed the bill, opponents would likely gather sufficient signatures to place a repeal referendum on the next election ballot. The political realities of a referendum meant that, if we didn’t pass the bill in 2011 or 2012, we wouldn’t have another shot until 2015.

So we agreed that if we could not pass the bill this year, we should try again next year.  Importantly, House leadership committed to bringing up the bill again in 2012. To preserve our prospects of success, therefore, it was best not to hold a vote now, given the chances of the bill’s defeat by a wide margin. It would be more difficult, within a year, to convert “no” votes to “yes” than to obtain a “yes” from delegates who had not locked in their position with an actual vote.

Those who believe that we had a chance of attaining 71 votes on March 11 are mistaken.  Immediately before the House voted to recommit, a whip count revealed that we still lacked 71 votes to pass the bill. Had there been at least 71, the speaker would have held the vote.

We understand the need for clarity and how those who fought so hard for marriage equality deserve an up or down vote on the issue. Equality Maryland’s mission, however, is to achieve equal rights for the state’s LGBT citizens as soon as possible. A vote now would have hurt our chances next year and possibly in 2015 as well.

We thus stand by the decision to recommit the bill. Of course, people can disagree, and we encourage healthy discussion.

We also commend the bill’s co-sponsors in the House and Senate, the LGBT Caucus, the governor, our national partners, and our friends at Alexander & Cleaver for working to advance the bill. We look forward to joining with each next year to achieve the bill’s enactment. In addition, we are proud of Equality Maryland’s staff, led by Morgan Meneses-Sheets, for their impressive dedication. Finally, we want to acknowledge that if not for the efforts of certain board members, the bill never would have progressed as far as it did.

We hope that supporters of equality for LGBT people join us in learning from our experience this year and moving forward in a positive direction.

Chuck Butler is board chair of Equality Maryland; Patrick Wojahn is chair of the Equality Maryland Foundation. Reach them via equalitymaryland.org.

13 Comments
  • And, of course, the board member doesnt care to mention the transgender bill in Maryland, HB235

  • ” Everyone realized that if the legislature passed the bill, opponents would likely gather sufficient signatures to place a repeal referendum on the next election ballot. The political realities of a referendum meant that, if we didn’t pass the bill in 2011 or 2012, we wouldn’t have another shot until 2015.”

    Question: Wouldn’t a referendum still be in play in 2012 if it passes?

    • Yes. Please see my comment below, which I hope clarifies that the decision not to hold a vote this year had nothing to do with a potential referendum.

  • I think Equality Maryland did a great job, but the Governor did nothing. He could have been an advocate and pushed House Dems to support the bill. His lukewarm support (at best) of marriage equality ensured it would die. In addition, we need to fight fire with fire and not allow the Catholic Church and African American churches to spread lies and scare people about marriage equality. Lastly….blame the gutless and spineless Dems who caved into pressure from bigots and homophobes. Shame!

  • Hmmm? Going through my mind right now would be “How might I be candid yet politically correct?”. This may be impossible.

    Herein we have a very wordy and really, moot explanation of how and why Chuck Butler, Patrick Wojahn, and the remaining Equality Maryland team made a frankly bad decision. Why are these individuals even in their respective positions in so much that they are clearly out of touch with the will of THEIR people, the LGBT constituents? Perhaps if they did listen…..? And was this Really their decision? or were they merely gullable scape-goats?

    Please, do not speak down to LGBT Mayrlanders and others telling Us’uns that we do not “understand Maryland politics”.

    THEY played this hand poorly. Opportunity missed. And it is not “negative” to accurately address one’s missteps. Father once told me that in order to croorct a problem, one must first acknowledge that one has a problem. This has yet transpired. This “explanation” is empty of authentic justification.

    LGBT Voters are further stripped of what little political power we may have built when we cannot even know clearly which Delegates voted For and Against us by means of a formally recorded vote. A failed vote, while disappointing, would have at least gained the next best thing, which is Knowledge, knowledge of our Supporters and of our Opponents. Let me be perfectly clear – This delay benefitted ONLY the gutless Delegates who were bribed by NON’s millions and intimidated by religious bullies – no one else. DELEGATES are the Winners here (not to mention the Opposition).

    And holding initiatives, with their accompanying campaigns of Hatred, sheds the light of day on the bigotry of the Opposition – another step toward equality. LET the Public be a part of this process! Aren’t we already awaiting rezults of a Court Challenge to the Constitutionality of Marriage inequality? – Yes!

    This was not the better path, nor was it as the affected citizenry desired which is to:
    Get on with it, hold the vote, and hold the vote now!

    Everyone makes mistakes, but Denial will only serve to further redden a face already slapped.

    New game-plan!

    • Mark Jason McLaurin

      You, Sir/Ma’am, have just singlehandedly restored my faith in the judgement of the community, your response was dead on and better than mine would have been- Thank You !!!!!

  • The list of “for” and “against” voters has been published in the Sun countless times – there is no controversy over who was going to do what excepting maybe 1 or 2 delegates (and we should try to force them out for being undecided or waivering anyway). Equality Maryland had no hand to play at that 11th hour because we had already lost, any which way you look at it. Whether that situation was Equality Maryland’s “fault,” well, you can decide that for yourself. Those are the errors and lessons learned we should worry about. How did this slip away so that we had to recommit? Bam, that’s the question. We were already losers whether it got recomitted or not. The dye was cast. I’m not one to bow down to the skill and talent of Equality Maryland (including its board members), but what are you expecting? A handful of people donate money to Equality Maryland and when they do the big donors are those who give a measley $500 a year. There is probably 1 or 2 donors max who give over a grand each year. You want to hire an effective, kick-butt team to change the minds of millions of blacks and Catholics and their delegates, then you’ve got to pay for it. Bottom line. Now, maybe Equality Maryland could do a better job at finding highly talented board members, but the board is in charge of finding the board and the board is not going to think it’s not talented in the first instance. And are they willing to dedicate the time it takes to become talented and an expert in marriage equality and public campaigns and politics? Are you willing? Most people aren’t, especially for no money. Equality Maryland has always been about 1 gem here and there but mostly about committed hard-working staff doing jobs that others probably wouldn’t do for the money considering the hours and grunt of it all.

    Yes, the delay benefitted gutless politicians but it would be a bad idea to make decisions based on that alone. Yes, it stinks that there was no winning when we learned we did not have the votes. Whether we could have put ourselves in a better position to win in the future by letting the vote go or recommitting, we’ll never know, but I can’t imagine the legislature or public would let this come up again for years if it was seen as finished by a vote in 2011.

  • I think the naivete seems to be with EQMD. First they like to make the argument that someone casting a no vote might be harder to change to a yes vote. Why is that?? Momentum is on our side. If anything it would be harder if not impossible for the yes votes to go to no not the other way around. It’s easier for a person to switch to the side of equality. We would have a record so we knew who needed to be worked on.
    The second point where they show naivete is that they believe that the Democrats will allow this to see the light of day during an election near. They at least got something right they have screwed us to 2015. In the meantime couples will have partners die without ever having the protection of marriage while EQMD drags their feet and beg for money.

    • 2012 is not a State election year in Maryland. That will not occur until 2014. And yes, people are more reluctant to vote in support of something that they’ve already voted against, especially if there hasn’t been an election in between.

  • I find it revealing that the writers thank everyone on the inside track but failed to thank the thousands and thousands of regular Marylanders that worked hard for equality–Marylanders that they betrayed so that some delegates who wanted an out from doing what they knew was the right thing to do all because they were afraid to lose a few votes (even though no state legislators have ever lost reelection on this issue!). I’m sorry but this was obviously more about providing political cover than a strategy for 2012–I agree with previous commented who makes the point about having a recorded vote.

    There is also a significant deception in this column–there is an assertion that “the Board knew” it would be more difficult in the House than the Senate after the elections–yet the energies and resources expended prior to and during the session tell a very different story–that the concern and priority was the Senate and passing it there was done first precisely because it was asserted that it would be easier to pass in the House. This reveals a lie to the thousands of people who believed in EqMD and who deserve an honest admission of error in the strategy pursued. I would be far more likely to donate to EqMD if they had come out and said, “sorry folks, we screwed up…”. As it is, I am skeptical about whether he priority really is bringing equality as soon as possible or keeping political favor among delegates who are obviously not committed to he truths of equality to begin with…

    As a Marylander I hope EqMD is able to deliver next year what they clearly set expectations for happening this year after the Senate passage.

  • I’m still not buying it. They should have forced the vote either way, and if we lost then at least they tried. As it stands they dropped the ball anyway and now we don’t know which delegates to support or oppose in the next primary season. Oh, and no one is buying the BS about NOM being able to get it put on the ballot as a reason not to hold a vote, because they could do that anyway.

  • To be clear, the decision not to have a vote on the marriage bill this year has nothing to do with a potential referendum. No matter what year the legislature passes a marriage equality bill, it would most likely go to referendum on the next election year’s ballot. If the bill passed in 2011 or 2012, it would go on the ballot in 2012. If passed in 2013 or 2014, however, it would go on the ballot in 2014 — the same year the entire legislature is up for election. Legislators most likely would not pass a bill that would go to referendum the same year they are on the ballot as well. So chances are low that the legislature would pass a marriage bill in 2013 or 2014.

    For this reason, if we couldn’t get the bill passed this year, 2012 is the only other viable year before 2015.

  • Why was my thoughtful and respectful comment from last night not posted?

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