LGBT advocates joined gay and lesbian members of the Maryland General Assembly last week in predicting voters in their state would become the first in the nation to uphold a same-sex marriage bill in a referendum expected to be placed on the ballot in November.
With a crowd of same-sex couples and the eight openly gay and lesbian members of the General Assembly standing behind him, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley on March 1 signed the Civil Marriage Protection Act, which calls for legalizing same-sex marriage in the state.
Several hundred supporters celebrated at a reception hosted by O’Malley at the governor’s residence immediately following the signing ceremony at the State House in Annapolis.
“We’re going to win,” declared Del. Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City), one of seven out gay or lesbian members of the House of Delegates.
Clippinger, like the others basking in the legislative victory, acknowledged that supporters have a difficult task ahead in going against what most observers predict will be an aggressive and well-funded campaign by opponents to defeat the bill at the polls.
“We’re going to win because people in our community are going to get out, they are going to talk to their co-workers, they’re going to talk to their neighbors, they’re going to talk to everybody they know and tell them why this is so important,” said Clippinger.
Del. Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery County), an out lesbian, said supporters across the state were poised and ready to wage an unprecedented campaign to retain the bill.
“It’s a very, very proud moment for all Marylanders to celebrate this day,” she said. “We’re celebrating today and savoring the sweet taste of equality on our lips. And we roll up our sleeves tomorrow, ready to pledge our best effort to defend this win at the ballot box in November.”
Darrell Carrington, former board member of the statewide LGBT advocacy group Equality Maryland, describes himself as a longtime civil rights activist and straight ally on the marriage issue.
“It’s just a remarkable day,” he said at the governor’s reception. “I could not be happier for all of my friends who get to become full citizens in the State of Maryland.”
Asked the prospects of winning a gay marriage referendum fight in Maryland, given that voters in 20 states have passed ballot measures banning same-sex marriage, Carrington said voters’ attitudes on the issue are changing rapidly.
“I believe if you look at the current polling data you see that the tide is changing,” he said. “It is changing dramatically and exponentially. And that’s what’s going to be helping us. So I think Maryland can be the first state to pass this on referendum.”
House of Delegates Speaker Michael Busch (D-Anne Arundel County) shares the optimism of supporters like Carrington on the bill’s chance of surviving a referendum.
“I believe that the more people understand about this issue they’ll look at it as an issue of equal rights and civil rights,” Busch told the Blade.
Gov. O’Malley: ‘We are all Americans’
Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Prince George’s and Calvert Counties) joined O’Malley in signing the bill before a crowd of hundreds of supporters who packed the lobby of the state capital building in Annapolis.
“We are all Americans. And all of us at end of the day want the same thing for our children. We want them to live in a loving, caring, and committed home that is protected equally under the law,” O’Malley said minutes before signing the bill.
O’Malley made no mention of a voter referendum expected to be placed on the ballot in November calling for killing the bill before it becomes law. But his brief remarks at the bill signing ceremony appeared to reflect the themes that Annapolis observers expect O’Malley to use to defend the bill before voters in the fall.
“For a free and diverse people, for people of many faiths, for a people committed to the principle of religious freedom, the way forward is always found through greater respect for the equal rights of all, for the eminent dignity of all,” O’Malley said.
After signing the bill, O’Malley handed the legislation to Busch and Miller, who placed their signature on the document.
Miller voted against the bill; Busch voted for it.
“The bill is signed,” O’Malley declared, triggering a burst of applause and cheers from the crowd.
Marriage equality supporters prepare for fight
Officials with Marylanders for Marriage Equality, the coalition of LGBT and straight allied groups that coordinated the effort to pass the bill in the legislature said that, while celebrating their legislative victory on March 1, they were gearing up for the referendum fight.
Spokesperson Kevin Nix said the coalition is already raising funds for the referendum through a donation link on its website and would soon be stepping up fundraising efforts. He said he could not discuss details on the organization’s campaign strategy by press time, saying campaign related activities would be announced soon.
Most agreed that O’Malley’s signature on the Civil Marriage Protection Act was the kick-off for what political observers predict will be an acrimonious referendum campaign in which opponents, as they have in other states, will warn that legalizing same-sex marriage would result in the “teaching” of homosexuality in elementary schools.
Brian Brown, president of the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage, called O’Malley’s signature on the bill a “meaningless” gesture, saying the bill was certain to be defeated in the upcoming referendum.
“The Maryland same-sex marriage legislation is a meaningless, symbolic act,” Brown said in a statement. “The people of Maryland, not politicians, will have the final say on marriage.”
The state Board of Elections on Feb. 29 approved the language for the referendum petition. The next day the elections board issued written confirmation allowing backers of the referendum to begin gathering signatures, according to board spokesperson Dona Duncan.
Same-sex marriage opponents are expected to gather the required number of petition signatures needed to place the referendum on the ballot for the November election.