It was the biggest and busiest night in my 10 years at the Washington Blade: President Obama’s re-election, Tammy Baldwin’s Senate triumph, openly gay and bi candidates winning seats in Congress and the first-ever wins in state marriage ballot fights.
Amid the avalanche of unprecedented good news, my partner and I took a break to visit an election night party sponsored by Marylanders for Marriage Equality, which fought to uphold the state’s marriage equality law. A lifelong Marylander, I scanned the crowd and saw so many familiar faces. Gay couples together for more than 20 years; other couples raising children; openly gay and lesbian members of our state legislature; past leaders of the state’s LGBT rights group who toiled in obscurity for so long.
Gov. Martin O’Malley was there, too. Five years ago, when the Maryland Court of Appeals narrowly ruled against marriage rights for gay couples, I launched a tough campaign to hold Democrats like O’Malley accountable for their promises to our community. At the time, O’Malley said no one should be messing with the sacraments anyway and he denied his earlier public support for marriage equality. After the court’s 4-3 ruling, I joined a group of demoralized LGBT activists in front of a supportive Baltimore church for a rally. We were called “faggots” and worse by passing motorists. Most people there cried, their hopes dashed and wedding plans canceled. It was a crushing defeat.
After a string of editorials criticizing the governor for his betrayal, he invited me to a meeting in his Annapolis office, which I agreed to attend only if it were on the record. There had been enough secret meetings and abandoned backroom promises. O’Malley was awkward and, like George W. Bush at the time, pointedly refused to even use the word “gay.” He said he supported civil unions and cited his Catholic faith.
I left feeling even worse: This was a governor who had attracted a strong LGBT following and previously pledged support for civil marriage in an on-camera TV interview. But he changed his mind and there didn’t seem to be much hope for a bill without his backing.
What I didn’t fully realize then was that the genie was already out of the bottle. The brave and public stand of the Maryland lawsuit’s plaintiffs had illustrated the diversity of our community and just how downright normal our struggles are. They told stories of raising kids without legal protections; losing a partner and the attendant tax burdens of dying single but owning a home and other property jointly; and the fears of entering a nursing home and being forced back into the closet in elder years. Those courageous plaintiffs planted the seed that sprouted this week into full state marriage rights for same-sex couples.
Their bravery emboldened gay and lesbian members of our state legislature to speak out more forcefully and inspired others like Del. Peter Murphy to come out publicly. Maryland boasts the most openly gay and lesbian members of a state legislature in the country and their visibility is what made it possible for the marriage bill ultimately to pass.
There are so many people responsible for the victory in Maryland this week that it’s impossible to draft a complete list, but a few key names come to mind deserving of some credit: Lisa Polyak and Gita Deane; Charles Butler, Jon Kaplan, Dan Furmansky and other early leaders of Free State Justice and Equality Maryland; Patrick Wojahn, Dave Kolesar and the rest of the 2006 lawsuit plaintiffs; Attorney General Doug Gansler for recognizing out-of-state marriages and for becoming the first statewide elected official to embrace the cause; HRC for stepping in this year when many national gay donors and other advocacy groups said Maryland was a lost cause; the openly gay and lesbian members of the state legislature; President Obama, Brendan Ayanbadejo and the NAACP for their support; and, yes, O’Malley for not only signing the bill into law but putting the weight of his administration behind its preservation.
Ultimately, the biggest thanks goes to average Maryland voters who saw through the recycled hate rhetoric from past campaigns against our rights in 32 other states. They were not fooled by fools like Derek McCoy, Emmett Burns, Tony Perkins and Harry Jackson who found out the hard way that appealing to voters’ most base instincts no longer constitutes a winning strategy.
And, finally, a thank you to my partner, Brian, and my family, friends and colleagues for enduring years of my own rants, frustration and venting about Maryland. It’s been a long road to this sweet destination and I look forward to a 2013 filled with the long-delayed weddings of so many friends. Congratulations Maryland, for living up to your “Free State” moniker.
Kevin Naff is editor of the Washington Blade. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.