Maryland Del. Sam Arora (D-Montgomery County) — who campaigned on a pledge to support a marriage equality bill then voted against it — has offered his first public explanation for the vote.
“A lot of us wanted the goal of full legal equality for all couples,” Arora said during a Jan. 8 segment of NewsTalk with Bruce DePuyt in response to a question from David Moon of Maryland Juice, a website that covers state politics. “We had different ways of getting there. Ultimately the governor’s bill passed, the voters approved it and I think one thing we can all celebrate is that gay and lesbian couples will have all the same legal rights as straight couples have and the state’s going to move forward now and there’s a lot more to it.”
Arora also referenced an amendment that he, Del. Geraldine Valentino-Smith (D-Prince George’s County) and former Del. Tiffany Alston introduced that would have replaced marriage with civil unions in the bill — he directed the Washington Blade to it in response to a request for comment on Moon’s question. Arora has refused the Blade’s many interview requests since his 2012 vote, which was assailed by LGBT advocates across the state.
Members of the House Judiciary and Health and Government Operations Committees on Feb. 14, 2012, voted 27-17 to table the measure. Arora subsequently voted against the marriage bill that Gov. Martin O’Malley signed into law a few weeks later.
“I’ve talked to a lot of voters about it… I wanted full legal equality,” Arora said in response to Moon’s question. “I originally thought that this bill was the right way to go. I then said I think there’s a different way to go and I proposed an amendment and that wasn’t the way the state ended up going, which is fine. The voters have approved this and now we move forward.”
Del. Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City) told the Blade she and other members of the legislature’s gay and lesbian caucus were advocating for nuptials for gays and lesbians ahead of last February’s vote.
“We were pushing for full marriage equality and that civil unions has been found to be inadequate,” she said. “In fact states that have civil unions are actually now looking to full marriage equality. Fortunately now we’re able to move forward and I agree that we can all move forward.”
Arora, who campaigned in support of nuptials for gays and lesbians in Maryland during his 2010 campaign, co-sponsored a same-sex marriage bill at the start of the 2011 legislative session. His subsequent opposition to the measure sparked outrage among LGBT advocates and his supporters.
Joshua Lapidus, who resigned as Arora’s legislative director in protest of the “no” vote, suggested in his resignation letter the Blade obtained that the delegate’s faith contributed to his position.
“I respect you and your beliefs, however I cannot respect your decision to place personal religious belief over the roles and responsibilities of the stewardship the people of District 19 entrusted unto you,” Lapidus wrote. “It saddens me that you are standing against the tide of history and ending your career over an issue that will no doubt be decided in the affirmative, with or without your vote, over the next couple years. So, I write this letter to inform you that if you don’t vote for [House Bill 438] I can no longer work under your employ.”
Moon questioned Arora’s response to his question.
“I find his comments to be pretty unresponsive,” he told the Blade. “I don’t think people are wondering whether he supported civil unions. The debate in Maryland was obviously about the marriage equality legislation, not with civil unions as an alternative. That wasn’t even a realistic option on the table for most public advocates when the bill finally went through. The question that fundamentally remains is why did Sam Arora campaign on the issue and change his vote.”
Moon expressed further skepticism about the delegate’s explanation of why he changed his position on marriage rights for same-sex couples.
“I do continue to find it baffling that he just simply won’t give a straight answer on this,” he said. “I haven’t heard anyone that found this to be a satisfactory explanation.”
Arora did not immediately respond to the Blade’s follow-up request for comment.