Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler isn’t one to mince words.
“In 10 or 15 years, we will have same-sex marriage in every state in the country,” he told a mostly gay and lesbian audience last week in Baltimore.
Gansler won praise from local and national LGBT rights groups in February after issuing a long-awaited legal opinion that Maryland may recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages. Since then, anti-gay conservatives have denounced and even tried to impeach him while the state’s gay and lesbian couples have tried to make practical sense of what the opinion means to them.
In an effort to address some of those issues, Gansler spoke at Govans Presbyterian Church in Baltimore before fielding questions from the audience that included many same-sex couples unsure of the opinion’s meaning.
One male couple, together for 53 years and preparing to marry in D.C., worried about the financial implications marriage might have on their investments. Another long-term lesbian couple, also planning to marry in D.C., was similarly concerned about unforeseen consequences of marital rights.
Gansler was a good sport and deserves much credit for taking time to meet with the state’s gay couples. He’s a refreshingly candid alternative to Gov. Martin O’Malley, who always sounds like he’s reading from a poll-tested cue card. Unfortunately, it became clear that no one, including Gansler, seems to know what exactly the legal opinion means.
He rightly pointed out that the opinion merely provides guidance for state agencies and that it would likely be short lived as the courts and legislature will now have to weigh in. So, should couples begin filing lawsuits demanding recognition of their legal marriages? Gansler said he hoped that wouldn’t be necessary but conceded it was probably inevitable. Will the legislature take action? Gansler doesn’t think so. And what about the impact of the opinion on private businesses? He didn’t address that issue. And what about taxes?
“In my view, married gay couples should be filing joint [state] taxes,” he said.
In response to a question from DC Agenda, he deflected criticism that his office took too long — nine months — to issue the opinion and denied that political considerations played a role in the delay.
“I would have liked it earlier,” he said. “I’m never concerned about the politics because you lose your credibility. I don’t engage in the politics of it.”
Of course, an elected official claiming not to be concerned about the political implications of handling a hot-button issue like same-sex marriage is guffaw inducing. But on other matters, Gansler was much more direct.
He pointed the finger at Republicans and Catholics and, most surprisingly, at conservative African-American “old school” pastors, accusing them of aggressively lobbying him to reject relationship recognition for the state’s same-sex couples. This sort of candor is exactly what’s needed to overcome the stalemate in Maryland. Too many anti-gay Democrats have gotten a pass from criticism by fellow Democrats and even LGBT rights activists.
Although Gansler is right about those forces opposing LGBT rights, he ignored the fact that Democrats have had near monopolistic control of state government for decades. If Maryland Democrats wanted to do the right thing and enact marriage equality, they could do so without a single Republican vote. The Democrats — especially entrenched, “old school” politicians like Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller — are the real problem in Maryland.
Despite the confusion over the opinion and the ongoing frustration felt by the state’s same-sex couples, it’s a relief to hear Gansler speak so openly about gay issues. He is clearly comfortable talking about our issues, unlike O’Malley, who has trouble even uttering the word “gay.”
“There aren’t more gay people now than there were 50 years ago,” Gansler said, “there are just more people telling you they’re gay.”
He even engaged in a little pop psychology about his conservative critics.
“Those who protest too much are probably gay themselves,” he said.
Let’s hope that as Gansler prepares for his inevitable run for governor in 2014, that his handlers don’t muzzle him too much. The state needs honest, fearless leadership and politicians willing to expend a little capital in the interest of justice. Unfortunately, O’Malley has demonstrated that he won’t lead on these issues; he doesn’t deserve LGBT votes or money in this year’s rematch with Robert Ehrlich, who announced last week he will run for his old job.
As bad as O’Malley has been, Ehrlich was worse during his tenure as governor. He vetoed the Medical Decision Making Act, which would have granted unmarried gay and straight couples hospital visitation rights, and he supported a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Ehrlich also vetoed the Transfer & Recordation Tax Exemption Act, which would have exempted gay couples from the taxes involved in transferring the title of a home.
He also promised to veto legislation that would have extended domestic partner benefits to partners of state employees in 2003, and once told a constituent that he does not “condone the promulgation of homosexual and bisexual activities.” The Ehrlich administration supported an anti-gay marriage demonstration in Annapolis. In four years in office, Ehrlich never agreed to field a single question from a Washington Blade reporter, despite countless attempts. Instead, he often restricted his public remarks to conservative talk radio hosts and even barred officials in his administration from speaking to certain Baltimore Sun reporters, including the Annapolis bureau chief.
The choice for 2010 may seem obvious, but, for the first time since I was old enough to vote, I plan to sit it out rather than pick between these two. I cannot cast a vote for O’Malley, whose betrayals and flip-flops must not be forgotten. I stood with heartbroken gay and lesbian couples after the 2007 Maryland high court decision denying marriage rights as they coped with canceling their wedding plans. At a post-decision rally, they gathered in front of a Baltimore church, many in tears, as several passing motorists yelled anti-gay epithets. And their governor — who once pledged to support the case and told the plaintiffs privately that he backed full civil marriage rights for same-sex couples — issued a cruel statement that he respected the court’s decision and invoked the Catholic sacraments to justify it.
LGBT Marylanders must remember that stinging rebuke in November and punish O’Malley for his duplicity.
Regardless of the outcome of that election, Maryland’s same-sex couples are likely facing a four-year wait for progress. Gansler unequivocally supports full marriage equality for same-sex couples and is the early frontrunner for governor in 2014.
In the meantime, the Baltimore event was a good start at communicating directly with those impacted by Gansler’s legal opinion, but state agencies have a long way to go in translating the opinion to actual benefits for Marylanders. These are life-and-death issues for many of us and Maryland’s gay and lesbian taxpayers deserve a full explanation of just what marriage recognition means to them.
Kevin Naff is editor of DC Agenda. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.