Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler predicted today that same-sex marriage would be legalized in the state next year.
He made the remarks during a forum at the Center for American Progress about the bill and prospects for a referendum that could overturn it.
“Our governor is now on board and other state leaders are on board, so I do believe it will have the momentum to get passed,” Gansler said.
In February, a measure that would legalize same-sex marriage passed the Maryland State Senate by a vote of 25-21. But the House scuttled the bill after LGBT advocates determined they lacked the votes for passage.
Gansler said the marriage bill came close to passage earlier this year and failed because of “political misjudment.”
“They thought that the Senate side of the Maryland Assembly would be the difficult part, and it turned out to be the House side that was more difficult,” Gansler said.
Gansler said passage didn’t happen because of the “microcosm in the Assembly that exists in the state, the heavy African-American vote, and so forth.”
If the Maryland Legislature passed the marriage legislation, opponents of same-sex marriage could seek to overturn the law through a voter-initiated referendum. Such a measure could appear on the ballot in 2012 at the same time voters would be going to the polls in the presidential race.
Gansler said opponents of marriage equality would “very likely” be able to obtain the necessary signatures to place the referendum on the ballot based on what he’s observed with the state’s DREAM Act, which would authorize in-state tuition benefits at local community colleges to undocumented students in some cases.
“As we just found with the DREAM Act, you can do that over the Internet — get signatures — so it would be very likely that it would actually be put on referendum,” Gansler said.
Gansler added the act of finding enough signatures for the referendum “would stay the enactment” of any marriage law that comes out of the Maryland Legislature.
“In between that time, we’d get a referendum,” Gansler said. “So, it would never actually become law unless and until it went to the voters.”
Gansler said the referendum “could very easily pass” in Maryland and said “the problem is with people most likely to vote” during the election. Still, Gansler said Maryland “would be the place” for a measure rescinding same-sex marriage to fail.
“I believe it’s the most liberal state now in the country, more so than Massachusetts in terms of Democrat-to-Republican registration,” Gansler said.
Gansler added that if the statute banning same-sex marriage remains in place, litigation could benefit gay couples because of the opinion he issued in 2009 saying out-of-state same-sex marriages should be recognized.
“Because of the opinion that I drafted, I believe that it’ll be challenged,” Gansler said. “It’ll go through the courts and be challenged at that point, and I think the Court of Appeals will find the law to be unconstitutional sometime between now and the end of that whole process.”
Gansler said a couple of cases “are already percolating” on whether same-sex couples can be divorced in Maryland who were married in another state. Another case in Western Maryland, Gansler said, challenged the law on the basis of the “spousal privilege.”
“The judge used our opinion in upholding the notion that this couple does have a spousal privilege because they were married in another state,” Gansler said.
Gansler continued, “So, I think if we go to the courts, we will win there. So, I think we win either way; it might take some time.”
The Maryland attorney general made the remarks during a forum highlighting a new report, titled “All Children Matter: How Legal and Social Inequalities Hurt LGBT Families,” which examines how shortcomings in the legal system negatively affect 2 million children living in LGBT families. The report was published by the Movement Advancement Project.