July 12, 2011 at 8:08 am EDT | by Kevin Naff
New effort to win marriage underway in Md.

Del. Mary Washington (center), a lesbian member of the Maryland House of Delegates, announced plans for a new marriage bill at a news conference Tuesday. At left is Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. (Washington Blade photo)

BALTIMORE — A diverse coalition of organizations announced plans Tuesday to push for a same-sex marriage bill in Maryland during the 2012 legislative session, which begins in January.

Led by Progressive Maryland, the coalition is dubbed Marylanders for Marriage Equality and includes Equality Maryland, the Human Rights Campaign, ACLU, Service Employees International Union 1199, Maryland Catholics for Equality and a number of other religious organizations.

Coalition members gathered at a sweltering morning news conference in front of Baltimore’s City Hall to announce their plans, just weeks after New York’s legislature approved a marriage equality measure.

“I believe in equality for all Baltimoreans,” said Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. “Baltimore will continue to stand with you in Annapolis.”

Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-Mont. Co.), when asked by the Washington Blade whether the coalition would consider a civil unions bill in lieu of marriage in the event of a referendum threat, said unequivocally that civil unions are an unacceptable compromise.

“It is marriage and only marriage — we are not considering a civil unions bill,” said Madaleno, the only openly gay member of the state Senate. “We will win a referendum if it gets that far.”

Gov. Martin O’Malley did not attend the news conference, but has said since 2007 that he would sign a marriage equality bill if the legislature can pass it. Del. Maggie McIntosh, a lesbian and the most senior member of the LGBT Caucus in the House of Delegates, said the coalition is in talks with O’Malley about taking a more visible and public role in advocating for the bill. O’Malley was criticized by some marriage rights supporters earlier this year for his perceived lack of visibility on the issue, which comes in stark contrast to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is widely credited with championing the issue in the Empire State.

McIntosh said marriage equality supporters have asked O’Malley to include the bill in the administration’s 2012 legislative package and that an answer on that request could come within weeks.

“The governor and the delegates have had discussions about this recently,” O’Malley spokesperson Raquel Guillory told the Blade after the news conference. “He is supportive of the new push and we are reaching out to a broad coalition of folks and discussing what steps we take next.”

Guillory didn’t say whether O’Malley would include the marriage bill in his administrative package.

“The governor was very clear last year that he would sign a marriage bill if it crossed his desk and that position has not changed,” she said. “He remains supportive.”

Asked why O’Malley didn’t attend today’s news conference, Guillory said, “This was an event organized by the delegates and [Rich] Madaleno —  this was their event, it wasn’t the governor’s announcement.”

She added that the difference between the successful New York effort and the very visible role Cuomo played in it and O’Malley’s approach to the issue is merely a matter of style.

“You’re focusing on one issue,” she said, “you need to look at the personalities of the individuals. [Cuomo] is not much more out there [on marriage], he’s more vocal about everything, it’s a matter of style.”

She added that O’Malley “did a lot behind the scenes to work this bill,” and that taking Cuomo’s approach “doesn’t ensure passage.”

A marriage equality bill failed in the House of Delegates in March after the Senate approved it. Multiple factors were cited for its failure, including opposition from conservative black pastors in Prince George’s County and a vigorous and well-funded campaign by the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage to derail the bill.

But supporters noted that they had little time to plan last year, because the bill was bottled up in committee until a sudden reshuffling of committee assignments in December resulted in its Senate passage.

“I’m incredibly optimistic this time,” said lesbian Del. Heather Mizeur (D-Mont. Co.). “Last year, we were caught off guard; this year we have more time to plan.”

Responding to speculation that the bill could be introduced at a special October legislative session on redistricting, Mizeur said that the bill would most likely be considered in January.

Guillory said the focus of the October special session would be on redistricting. “Other options could be put on the table, but our focus is to take care of the redistricting issue,” she said.

Del. Peter Murphy (D-Charles Co.), who came out in an interview with the Blade earlier this year, echoed Mizeur’s confidence.

“I’m very optimistic,” Murphy said, “there is a tremendous effort and organization behind this and I’m confident the citizens of Maryland will support it.”

Rion Dennis, executive director of Progressive Maryland, vowed that Maryland would become the nation’s seventh state to enact marriage equality. His group is leading the marriage coalition. Sultan Shakir, an HRC employee who was loaned to Equality Maryland during the legislative session to work on marriage, is now working with Progressive Maryland.

Equality Maryland fired its executive director after the 2011 legislative session and its board chair later resigned. The group has been plagued by financial and staffing problems, but one board member said Tuesday that things are turning around.

“We have a six-month plan in place and are back on sound financial footing,” said Equality Maryland board member Mark Yost. “We look forward to working with the coalition to bring marriage to all Marylanders.”

Yost said Equality Maryland is planning to hire a new executive director but declined to say when that would occur.

In addition to politicians and activists, the Tuesday news conference highlighted the plight of two lesbian couples from Maryland. Kalima Young and Francine Housier joined Chris Megargee and Barbara McKeefery in addressing the media and taking about the importance of marriage equality to them and their families.









Kevin Naff is the editor and a co-owner of the Washington Blade, the nation’s oldest and most acclaimed LGBT news publication, founded in 1969.

  • Strange but I am pretty sure that all of these groups were already involved this year. It is fine to try to get people excited and “launch” a campaign, but it seems disingenuous to act as if none of this happened this year. There are lessons to be learned for sure, but let’s not act like folks did not work hard and get pretty far this year! Let’s hope that everyone in this coalition will truly work together and not just fight for turf and credit. THAT is what it will take to get things done!

  • Why isn’t the log cabin republican group a member? They were EXTREMELY effective in New York. We need them!

  • I read this column with interest and hope for a win in Maryland. What seems to be missing from the Maryland fight is a real leader and the Office of the Governor. It is time for Martin O’Malley to step up to the plate and be on the right side of history. He should do what Andrew Cuomo did and focus on the second word-equality- rather than on the first one marriage if that makes it easier for him. This is about civil law that he has sworn to protect. It isn’t enough to stand on the sidelines and say you will sign a bill. Hopefully Governor O’Malley will show some courage between now and the announcement of his legislatitive agenda and include a bill on Marriage-equality in his agenda. Then this coalition should actually come together in a new group as the various entitites in NY did, and make sure that the goal isn’t who can claim victory, but rather the victory itself. Then this press conference can be reheld where it belongs in the firstplace in front of the statehouse in Annapolis. I look forward to this happening and to Maryland being the 7th jurisdiction that approves marriage-equality.

  • I applaud EVERYONE and wish them every success! I support gay rights with my vote and my donations….! It is the RIGHT THING TO DO…. TO SUPPORT OUR FRIENDS AND NEIGHBORS AND FAMILY.

  • marriage – while trans people are still the legal inferiors to gays in the state… maybe once all the gays are off on their honeymoons actual civil rights work can begin for the trans population.

  • NOM will easily block any attempt at same-sex marriage in Maryland since it has a massive amount of money and the ability to mobilize parishioners of the mega-churches in Maryland/DC. Where exactly is the money going to come from to fight the veto referendum? My GAYTM is closed until I see a solid plan.
    How about organizing groups of gays in each district in order to better pressure their local Delegate? I called my Delegate during the same-sex marriage fight and the lady who answered the phone said I was the only one who called who supported same-sex marriage. Yet when I logon to sites like Adam4Adam and Grindr I get pages and pages of men who live in the same area I do. There has to be better grassroots organization.

  • Since any gay marriage law passed by the legislature would have to be approved by the voters, it would be foolish to push for it passing right now, knowing that it will almost certainly be repealed by voters. And yes, it is pretty obvious that voters would repeal it. Easily.

  • There was a great article in the Washington Post yesterday about how opponents to the Maryland Dream Act (immigrant-tuition) used a very simple website to gather over 100,000 signatures to put this law on hold. They did it with very little money and no national organization helping. The man, who only spent $2,500 on his successful campaign, stated that he is ready to collect signatures to stop same-sex marriage should it pass. It will be easy since people who are anti-immigrant are most likely anti-gay.

    Same-sex marriage is certain to go to the voters.

  • I hope it does not pass again. Marriage should between man and woman.

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