June 3, 2015 at 12:48 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Lukewarm response to O’Malley presidential bid
Martin O'Malley, gay news, Washington Blade

Maryland’s gay lawmakers seem lukewarm to former Gov. Martin O’Malley‘s decision to run for president in 2016. (D-Md.) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Maryland’s gay and lesbian lawmakers appear less than enthusiastic about former Gov. Martin O’Malley’s 2016 presidential campaign that he formally announced on Saturday.

State Del. Anne Kaiser (D-Montgomery County) said she admires “any citizen, politician or otherwise who has the courage to run for office, whether it be local alderman or the highest office in the land.” The Montgomery County Democrat noted to the Washington Blade that she will endorse former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who formally kicked off her 2016 presidential campaign in April.

“By announcing his candidacy, Martin is giving Democrats a choice, which is good for the party, for the citizens of this great nation and enriches democracy as a whole,” Kaiser told the Blade.

Former state Del. Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery County) on Monday declined to comment. State Dels. Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City), Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City), and Bonnie Cullison (D-Montgomery County) and state Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-Montgomery County) did not return the Blade’s emails on the subject.

State Del. Maggie McIntosh (D-Baltimore City) was out of the country and could not be reached for comment.

Advocates applaud O’Malley for signing LGBT bills

O’Malley during his campaign announcement listed signing laws that extended marriage rights to same-sex couples and in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants as among the key legislative accomplishments of his two terms in office.

He played an active role in the campaign in support of the same-sex marriage law ahead of the November 2012 referendum on it, attending fundraisers and appearing at numerous events. O’Malley in May 2014 signed Maryland’s transgender rights law that took effect last October.

Jonathan Jayes-Green, a gay man from Panamá who Equality Maryland and Casa de Maryland featured in a campaign to garner additional support for the state’s same-sex marriage law and Dream Act that extended in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants, was among those who introduced O’Malley at his campaign announcement.

“We could not be more proud of Jonathan,” said Carrie Evans, executive director of Equality Maryland, a statewide LGBT advocacy group. “He has become an important voice and leader in both the LGBT and immigrant communities of Maryland.”

Evans told the Blade that her organization is also “grateful for the governor’s leadership over the past few years on LGBT issues.”

“Without his passion and dedication we would not have won marriage equality in Maryland,” she said. “We know that he will carry his steadfast commitment to our issues with him as he moves into his next political chapter.”

Sharon Brackett, president of Gender Rights Maryland’s board of directors, noted that O’Malley “has an actual record on supporting and seeing legislation passed on LGBT issues” that includes signing the state’s first trans ordinance in 2002 when he was mayor of Baltimore.

“Governor O’Malley is the first presidential candidate to talk about the importance of transgender rights at his announcement,” Haley Morris, a spokesperson for O’Malley’s campaign, told the Blade on Wednesday. “He is running to make sure that the dignity of every individual is a priority for our nation as a whole.”

Marriage endorsement only came as ‘political winds shifted’

O’Malley over the years has faced criticism that he did not publicly support marriage rights for same-sex couples until it was politically advantageous for him to do so.

The former governor during a January interview with the Blade before leaving office disputed reports that he said the Maryland Court of Appeals should not interfere with the “sacraments” after it dismissed a same-sex marriage lawsuit in 2007. His full statement issued at the time read: “I look forward to reading the court’s full opinion, but as we move forward, those of us with the responsibility of passing and enforcing laws have an obligation to protect the rights of all individuals equally, without telling any faith how to define its sacraments. I respect the court’s decision.”

He told Richard Sher of WMAR in 2004 that he supported “equal civil marriage” in response to a question about then-San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom’s decision to allow gays and lesbians to marry in his city.

Dan Furmansky, who was executive director of Equality Maryland at the time, declined to comment for this story.

Michael Estève, chair of the Maryland chapter of Log Cabin Republicans, sharply criticized O’Malley over his decision not to make same-sex marriage a legislative priority until 2012.

“His endorsement of same-sex marriage in 2012 came only as the political winds shifted, and then, only in the form of a referendum in which the governor failed to persuade some of the largest Democratic voting blocs to support it,” Estève told the Blade.

Morris defended O’Malley’s record on marriage and Maryland’s trans rights law.

“In Maryland, he fought for marriage equality long before it was a national progressive priority, defended it at the ballot box, and prohibited discrimination against Marylanders based on gender identity,” Morris told the Blade.

Rev. Merrick Moise, a Baltimore pastor who works within LGBT communities of color, told the Blade on Monday that it is “laudable” that O’Malley backed marriage rights for same-sex couples in 2012 after advocates “worked tirelessly to persuade” him to reach that position.

Moise was critical of the “zero-tolerance” policy toward crime that O’Malley implemented during his mayoral tenure in Baltimore as he discussed the aftermath of the unrest that took place in several neighborhoods throughout the city in April. The former governor referenced the issue during his kick-off speech, and it has already cast a shadow over his campaign.

“The effects of zero-tolerance have been staggering,” Moise told the Blade, noting more than 100,000 people have been incarcerated for what he described as minor offenses since O’Malley implemented the policy. “Many still cannot find work because of arrest records. As a result, many are locked out of employment and locked into poverty.”

Uphill battle against Clinton, Sanders

O’Malley faces an uphill battle in the race to secure the Democratic nomination in 2016, considering that some polls indicate Clinton is 50 points ahead of the former Maryland governor. U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a self-professed Democratic Socialist who entered the race last month, poses an additional challenge to O’Malley.

“His success versus Sanders won’t come down to social issues,” said Gender Rights Maryland Executive Director Dana Beyer. “Age, energy and records of overall accomplishment will be more significant.”

Somerset Mayor Jeffrey Slavin, who is vice chair of the Maryland Democratic Party, told the Blade he feels that progressive Democrats in Iowa, New Hampshire and other early caucus and primary states are “looking for a candidate who has taken a leadership” role on LGBT issues.

“I’m so proud that he’s going after that vote with that record,” he said, referring to O’Malley. “It’s sort of a litmus test for all progressive voters, how you stand and where you’ve stand on the LGBT community.”

Kaiser declined to comment on whether she feels O’Malley is likely to gain traction among LGBT voters by highlighting his efforts in support of same-sex marriage and trans rights.

“Today, the former governor garners only 3 percent support in his home state against Secretary Clinton,” said Estève. “If you’re looking for a corporate Democrat who prefers cold, numbers-driven bureaucracy to social justice, is openly hostile to small business in favor of big enterprise, and uses gay rights as little more than a political prop, you have your man in Martin O’Malley.”

Morris dismissed this claim.

“Governor O’Malley has always fought for the dignity of every human being, and gotten real results as a leader on LGBT issues,” she said.

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

1 Comment
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