August 27, 2012 at 12:42 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Former RNC chair to co-host Marylanders for Marriage Equality fundraiser

Ken Mehlman (screen capture from CSREurope via You Tube)

Former Republican National Committee Chair Ken Mehlman is among those who will co-host a New York City fundraiser next month for the group defending Maryland’s same-sex marriage law.

Governor Martin O’Malley is scheduled to speak at the Marylanders for Marriage Equality event that will take place at the James Hotel in lower Manhattan on Sept. 13. Gay director John Waters; who is from Baltimore; is on the host committee alongside Mehlman, actor Josh Charles, supermodel Hilary Rhoda and other native Marylanders. Comedian Sandra Bernhard, actresses Julianne Moore and Sarah Jessica Parker, hip hop mogul Russell Simmons, Bravo’s Andy Cohen and former New York Rangers forward Sean Avery are among the other co-hosts.

Tickets range from $250 – $25,000.

“We’re excited to be putting together this event, and thankful that so many have volunteered to serve as hosts,” Josh Levin, campaign director for Marylanders for Marriage Equality, told the Blade. “Voters in Maryland know that this vote will be about treating everyone fairly and equally under the law, and just like the hundreds of volunteers who joined us to knock on doors this weekend, these supporters will help us get the word out.”

Avery, who appeared in a campaign last year that featured prominent New Yorkers who supported same-sex marriage, stressed that he feels he and others who back the issue are “fighting the same fight.” Gays and lesbians began to legally marry in the Empire State in July 2011 after Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed New York’s same-sex marriage bill into law.

“We started in New York and a lot of us live here who are involved in this, but it’s really a nationwide issue and a bigger global issue,” Avery told the Blade.

Mehlman was not immediately available for comment because he is out of the country. Brian Ellner, who directed the Human Rights Campaign’s efforts in support of New York’s same-sex marriage bill, told the Blade that he feels those behind the Sept. 13 fundraiser are deeply committed to defending Maryland and Washington’s same-sex marriage laws in November. He further stressed they remain steadfast supporters of efforts to allow gays and lesbians to legally marry in Maine and continue to fight against a proposed constitutional amendment that would define marriage in Minnesota as between a man and a woman.

“New Yorkers stepped up big to support equality here last year and we are also getting behind these four November referenda,” said Ellner. “Now is the time to start winning these ballot questions. I know we will.”

The New York City fundraiser is slated to take place five weeks after HRC pledged $250,000 to Marylanders for Marriage Equality as part of an additional $1 million to support same-sex marriage efforts in Maryland, Washington, Minnesota and Maine. This donation comes on top of the $728,000 in cash and in-kind contributions that HRC given to Marylanders for Marriage Equality and $853,000 it contributed to the legislative campaign to secure passage of the state’s same-sex marriage law earlier this year.

Freedom to Marry announced earlier this month that its contributions to statewide ballot measures in Maine, Minnesota and Washington have topped $3 million. The organization hopes to raise an additional $10 million for these campaigns

Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, stressed to the Blade that his group has provided a “huge amount of messaging, research and experience and council” to Marylanders for Marriage Equality. He noted that the organization has not only urged its supporters to donate to the campaign, but invited Marylanders for Marriage Equality take part in what he described as “regular calls” between the four campaign managers to “coordinate and share best practices, brainstorm and problem solve.”

“Freedom to Marry is providing assistance to the campaign in Maryland in a number of ways and is looking constantly for ways we can be helpful,” he said. “At the same time we have also taken the lead as the primary out of state funder and supporter in three of the four ballot measures and look to other organizations — most notably HRC — to take a similar role and lead in Maryland, even as we continue to look for ways for advancing the cause across the board.”

Marylanders for Marriage Equality has yet to publicly disclose the amount of money it has raised, but it netted $250,000 at a Chevy Chase fundraiser last month. Levin has repeatedly stressed he remains confident it can successfully defend the state’s same-sex marriage law with between $5 and $7 million.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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