What a difference a year makes. Just 11 months ago, the hopes of Maryland’s gay rights advocates were dashed when the House of Delegates yanked a bill to legalize same-sex marriage after support for the measure crumbled.
But on Friday, after a long week of testimony, amendments and emotional floor speeches, the House approved the bill by two votes and found support from a few unlikely voices.
Republican Dels. Wade Kach and Robert Costa cast votes in favor, joining fellow Republican Sen. Allan Kittleman, who voted for it last year. Then in another surprise move, Del. Tiffany Alston, who was widely criticized last year for changing her mind on the bill, changed it again. She voted against the bill in committee on Tuesday, then for it on the House floor on Friday after offering a friendly amendment that was accepted. Unfortunately, she supports a referendum on the issue. In an odd twist, Alston was indicted last year on charges that she used campaign funds to pay for expenses related to her wedding, including her dress.
Kach, from Baltimore County, switched his vote from last year and said he received threats as a result. He was shadowed by state police officers in Annapolis on Friday.
Costa announced his support in advance of the vote last week.
“I think it’s not a state function to decide who can marry,” the Annapolis Capital quoted Costa as saying. “I do what I believe is right for people. I don’t think that matters. I represent constituents and not a party.”
A confluence of factors brought about this historic outcome, from the aggressive support of Gov. Martin O’Malley, to the passage of similar laws in New York last year and Washington and New Jersey earlier this month. Even former Vice President Dick Cheney got involved in the Maryland fight, placing calls to fence-sitting Republicans asking them to vote for the bill, according to a Baltimore Sun report. That little gem puts President Obama in an awkward position — to the right of Cheney on marriage.
Another little noticed development came during a town hall-style meeting with O’Malley sponsored by the Baltimore Sun last week. During the meeting, O’Malley acknowledged that he sacrificed his private support for marriage for political gain.
“I was mayor of the city of Baltimore then and my political advisers and friends went absolutely nuts and said ‘There is no such term as civil marriage’ … if you use the term ‘civil marriage’ you are going to jeopardize whatever hope we have to defeat the current officeholder and make the sort of strides, in any number of areas, that [then-Gov. Robert Ehrlich Jr. is] opposed to on these things,” O’Malley said.
It was a stunningly candid admission, though a fact that most of us assumed. Like so many other politicians — Democrats and Republicans alike — O’Malley privately supported same-sex marriage all along but was afraid to say so publicly. It’s the same position Obama finds himself in now. No one believes that Obama opposes marriage equality and he’ll certainly express his support after the November election. Kudos to O’Malley for finally going public and for his important testimony in support of the bill and his staff’s behind-the-scenes lobbying that helped bring about the positive outcome Friday.
There are many others who deserve credit and our gratitude for the House vote: Kittleman for demonstrating that this isn’t a partisan issue; the Assembly’s openly gay and lesbian members for their visibility and passion; the supportive clergy who went public and testified for the bill; Equality Maryland staffers and board members past and present for never giving up; the Marylanders for Marriage Equality coalition led by HRC; and the couples who sued unsuccessfully for marriage rights in a case that culminated in 2007.
One of those couples, Lisa Polyak and Gita Deane, has remained a key part of the fight ever since. Polyak serves as board chair for Equality Maryland, an organization that was on the verge of total collapse when she took over last year. Since then, thanks in large part to her smart leadership, the statewide LGBT advocacy group is back on its feet with a capable new executive director in Carrie Evans. Polyak and Deane bravely put their family in the public spotlight in the name of equality and justice. It’s a scary thing to do when you have children and Maryland’s LGBT residents owe them a huge debt of gratitude for their sacrifice and courage.
The news, of course, isn’t all good. In all the seesawing that went on with the marriage debate, no one proved more disappointing than freshman Del. Sam Arora, a Democrat from progressive Montgomery County, who campaigned in support of marriage equality and took LGBT votes and money as a result, then stabbed his constituents in the back by changing his position. He is a slimy, two-faced politician of the worst order who should quietly slink away from public life when his term expires. If not, the challengers are already lining up to take him out. One and done for Sam Arora.
And the fight goes on, first to the Senate, which is expected to pass the bill as it did last year, then to state voters in a likely November referendum. No matter the outcome of that referendum, the tide has turned in Maryland and marriage equality for state residents is a matter of when, not if. Supporters should celebrate this historic moment, confident that we are on the right side of history.