January 5, 2012 at 10:24 am EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Maryland to take up marriage, trans bills
Martin O'Malley, gay news, gay politics dc

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley announced plans last year to include a same-sex marriage bill as part of his administration’s legislative package in 2012. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Bills calling for legalizing same-sex marriage and banning discrimination against transgender persons are among the hot-button issues set to emerge next week when the Maryland State Legislature begins its 2012 session.

Officials with an expanded coalition backing the marriage bill and a new transgender advocacy group leading the effort on behalf of the Gender Identity Non-Discrimination Act say they are hopeful that the legislature will pass both measures before it adjourns for the year in April.

“It’s all hands on deck with both bills,” said Carrie Evans, executive director of the statewide LGBT group Equality Maryland. “We’re talking to many lawmakers, including Republicans.”

Evans and others working on the two bills were cautious about predicting when leaders of the Maryland Senate and House of Delegates will bring the measures up for a vote, saying control over the timing of the bills was exclusively in the hands of the lawmakers.

Supporters were also cautious about disclosing strategy for defeating an expected voter referendum that experts say will almost certainly be brought before the electorate in November – in the midst of the U.S. presidential election – if the Maryland Legislature passes a marriage bill this spring.

Public opinion polls show voters in the state are evenly divided over whether to vote for or against same-sex marriage.

Under rules of the Maryland Legislature, the committees with jurisdiction over the bills must hold a public hearing on the marriage and gender identity bills, even though the two bills were the subject of lengthy and contentious hearings less than a year ago during the legislature’s 2011 session.

The Democratic-controlled Senate approved the marriage bill last March in what supporters called an historic 25-21 vote. But the Democratic-controlled House of Delegates killed the measure for the year by voting to send it back to committee after supporters determined they were a few votes short of the 71 votes needed to pass it in the 141-member House.

In what some called an ironic twist, the House of Delegates passed the transgender bill last year before the Senate killed it by voting to send it back to a Senate committee. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Prince George’s and Calvert Counties) reportedly orchestrated the decision to hold off on a Senate vote, saying a number of key supporters changed their minds and threatened to vote against the bill.

Shortly after the defeat of the marriage bill last year, supporters led by the Human Rights Campaign formed Marylanders for Marriage Equality, an expanded coalition of organizations with a track record of political clout with state lawmakers. Among the coalition partners are the NAACP of Baltimore, the Maryland ACLU, and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Equality Maryland and HRC are also members of the coalition.

Coalition spokesperson Kevin Nix of HRC has said each coalition partner brings unique skills and expertise to the lobbying effort on behalf of the marriage bill.

But coalition officials haven’t disclosed which, if any, lawmakers who were uncommitted or against the bill last year have indicated support this time around.

“The good news and the bad news is the legislators are the same,” said Mark McLaurin, a gay man who serves as political director for the Local 500 of the SEIU of Maryland.

He noted that having the same players is helpful to a degree because they are already informed on the marriage and transgender bills. But McLaurin cautioned that with no election taking place since the 2011 legislative session, it may be hard to line up the additional supporters needed to pass the bills.

“Quite frankly, despite the great work that’s been done since the last session, I haven’t heard very many announced conversions from no to yes,” he said. “So in many respects I feel we’re in the same place that we were.”

Like others lobbying for the marriage bill, McLaurin said he is hopeful that Gov. Martin O’Malley’s decision to include the marriage and transgender bills as part of his legislative package this year will provide an important boost for both measures.

McLaurin, a former board member of Equality Maryland, criticized LGBT advocates and supportive lawmakers last year for their decision to withdraw the marriage bill from the House rather than bring it up for a vote. He said a vote would have helped in the lobbying efforts this year by identifying for certain where lawmakers stand on the marriage measure.

Other supporters disagree with that view, saying a vote last year would have forced wavering House members to take a position, possibly against the bill, making it more difficult for them to vote for it this year without being labeled as “flip-floppers.”

Veteran transgender advocate Dana Beyer, executive director of Gender Rights Maryland, the newly formed statewide group, said a number of important developments since the transgender bill died in the legislature last year have given the bill “great momentum” this year.

Among the developments are O’Malley’s strong endorsement of the bill and his pledge to make it one of his legislative priorities, said Beyer. She noted that O’Malley responded, in part, to the flurry of publicity surrounding the beating of transgender woman Chrissy Lee Polis at a McDonald’s restaurant outside Baltimore in April. The beating, which was captured on video taken by a McDonald’s employee, created a national sensation and boosted support in Maryland for transgender non-discrimination legislation.

In two other developments, the Howard County, Md., legislature passed a gender identity non-discrimination bill in December and the Eleventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that same month that a transgender woman fired from her job in Georgia was protected from discrimination by the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause barring gender-related discrimination.

“All of these things are giving this bill tremendous momentum,” Beyer said. “I feel really good about where things stand.”

Opposition to the marriage bill, coordinated last year by the National Organization for Marriage, is being spearheaded this year by the Maryland Marriage Alliance, a state coalition with ties to NOM.

“Special interest groups are pressuring politicians in Annapolis to redefine marriage in Maryland – despite the strong opposition of a majority of Maryland citizens,” the group says on its website. “A large outcry throughout the state convinced our elected officials last year to reject this drastic action, but the threat is raising its head again,” the web message says.

The group is calling on Marylanders to send contributions to support its effort to oppose the marriage equality bill and to “protect” marriage as a union of “one man and one woman.”

It has announced plans for a rally against the bill in Annapolis early this year and is encouraging churches to call on their congregations to oppose the bill on a regular basis during Sunday sermons.

Supporters of the marriage bill say the approval of a similar bill by the New York Legislature last year, under the strong leadership of New York’s Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo, would also help the effort in Maryland.

Leaders of Marylanders for Marriage Equality, including HRC officials involved with the coalition, have yet to disclose their views on possible changes in the wording of the Maryland bill. But speculation has surfaced that O’Malley and supportive lawmakers in the legislature might follow Cuomo’s decision to add a new provision to expand the bill’s exemption for religious organizations.

Cuomo reportedly persuaded some wavering lawmakers to support the New York marriage bill by agreeing to add a provision that allows religious organizations other than churches, including some businesses, to refuse to rent their facilities or provide services, such as catering or the sale of wedding gowns, for same-sex marriages.

Gay rights groups that had been opposed to such exemptions went along with Cuomo’s backing of the exemptions.

When asked about a possible broadening of the religious exemption provision of the Maryland marriage bill, Nix, the spokesperson for Marylanders for Marriage Equality, said only, “Governor O’Malley is committed to ensuring that religious institutions are protected under Maryland law.”

Equality Maryland, meanwhile, announced this week a series of events and activities it will sponsor to push for the marriage bill. Among them are nightly phone banks staffed by volunteers across the state; a Feb. 1 prayer breakfast and Clergy Lobby Day in Annapolis; and a Feb. 13 lobby day in Annapolis in which LGBT advocates from across the state will visit their representatives to urge support for the marriage bill.

“Equality Maryland will also work with Gender Rights Maryland to pass a bill that will add protections in existing anti-discrimination laws for transgender individuals,” according to a statement issued this week by Equality Maryland.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

  • I live in Maryland I have a wife and a son and as soon as any of these pro gay laws pass here I am moving out.

    • They’re already in place in Baltimore, and many other parts of the state. So you’re about 10 years late. Of course, if you’re already living with such laws, and weren’t even aware of it – maybe the people who have been telling you how terrible the consequences would be might just be telling you a few minor fibs, hmm?
      Where are you going to move to, anyway. 40% of the US population is already covered by these laws, sometimes for decades.

  • @Guest: I understand your frustration with the Gender Identity Non-Discrimination Act. I’m a gay man, but I don’t understand why this initiative commands attention. I oppose any effort to cherry pick groups for special protections. Discrimination is against the law; why do we need to legislate protections for special groups? What about fat people? What about left-handed people? What about autistic people? What about dwarfs? When is enough, enough?

  • Laurelboy2,

    The trans bill doesn’t offer ‘special’ protection for any group, it offers equal protection in a society where trans discrimination and hate is as bad as it was in the 70s for gays and lesbians. If you are trans you can be legally fired, denied housing, hospitalization, and so much more in most of the country. If you are trans and need emergency surgery your insurance can say ‘oops, sorry we don’t cover sex surgery for trans people’. The violence is still rampant for transgendered people. Everything negative is still rampant for trans people.

    Also, you being a gay man has nothing to do with transgender. Understand the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity.

  • @laurelboy2:
    In Maryland, you, being a gay man, are protected under the current set of laws regarding discrimination (Quite happy for you about that BTW). Trans people are not. It is easy to take that attitude when you are safe with your job that can’t fire you, a home you are renting that you can’t be evicted or denied, and public access where you can’t be forced to leave (read public as state funded) simply for being gay.

    As a trans women I get none of those protections. I can be fired because I am trans. I can be kicked out and denied housing because I am trans. I can be denied access to the places you are free to go, because I am trans. I can even be bleeding to death in an ER waiting room, and be asked to go outside and die, because I am trans. Hell, I can even be asked to leave just for wanting to use the toilet, because I am trans.

    Is including gender identity cherry picking? I don’t think so, I think it is including a group into the existing law that *everyone else* already enjoys being protected under, except people like me. The same goes for gay marriage, it isn’t cherry picking a group, it is asking to be giving the same civil right as any other couple to bond in matrimony.

    Is that fair? I think so. Cherry Picking? Not so much.

    I really wish it was as simple as you would like it to be “Discrimination is against the law”, but sadly, not ALL discrimination is against the law. Go head to the HRC.org website, they spell it out and break it down by state for you. The sad reality is that in our country, not everyone is equal, and these laws trying to be passed in MD are trying to correct that. I would hope that you would encourage that effort as opposed to disparaging it.

    Remember that in 30 states it is perfectly legal to fire you or me, deny us housing, and deny us any kind of care or public access because we are simply perceived as “different’ to every other “normal” person out there. Enough is when our country says that we are all equal, and equally protected.

  • @M: You’re right. How stupid of me to imply that sexual orientation and gender identity have anything to do with each other. They don’t; which raises a second point – why don’t all you trans people take your issues and stand alone? Why have you hitched your horse to the gay wagon?? I’ve never understood that connection since it’s clear that sexual orientation and gender identity are “different,” as you wrote.

  • @Guest2: While you write well you haven’t changed my views. My violin plays for you. The answer really is to understand the ramifications of being trans. Once you understand what your “choice” can result in, then perhaps you’ll think twice before playing with fire. Seek psychological help to deal with your gender identity issues and play dress-up on Saturday nights.

    As “M” pointed out, gender identity and sexual orientation are “different.” In my view, trans is a choice. Think twice before making it.

  • I hope that the Maryland General Assembly does not pass a gender identity law with an overbroad definition of gender identity that would gut protections based on sex. Once again, the needs of females are overlooked by the GLBT Movement.

  • And I hope the Maryland Legislature has the good sense to pass trans rights bills that have public accommodations language in them and not that BS Massachusetts passed or the unjust one they tired to pass in Maryland last year

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