Equality Maryland, the state’s frontrunning activist group pushing for marriage equality, isn’t in any rush to get Maryland’s lawmakers to vote on approving The M-Word. Because it would backfire, they say.
Even if state lawmakers were to legalize gay marriage (and that’s a big if), the issue would almost certainly go to a statewide voter referendum, because groups like the National Organization for Marriage and your local church leaders (see: Bishop Harry Jackson) are dicks. So now that Attorney General Douglas Gansler is saying the state must recognize out-of-state gay marriages? And with Gov. Martin O’Malley saying state agencies must do the same? Now it’s time to … stall.
In more than a decade of bills on same-sex marriage, none have passed the General Assembly. And as Maryland follows the trajectory of states that have legalized gay marriage, advocates may not want a vote anytime soon. For the third year, Delegate Ben Barnes, D-Prince George’s, and Sen. Richard Madaleno, D-Montgomery, have filed bills to statutorily legalize same-sex marriage. “Every year we’ve put the bill in, we’ve gotten progress,” Barnes said.”That says a lot about where this assembly and where this state is going.”
But advocates don’t expect either bill to pass in what little time is left in the legislative session, and that may work to their advantage.
“The national partners we work with are experts on how this has worked in other states, and they agree we are well-poised,” said Morgan Meneses-Sheets, executive director of Equality Maryland. “We will be in a stronger place a year from now, even six months from now.” Part of the strategy is to not rock the boat. Advocates also want to avoid a high-profile legal challenge that could trump Gansler’s opinion — even from gay couples seeking to enforce the directive Gov. Martin O’Malley made to state agencies to honor out-of-state marriages. Instead, advocates want to build grassroots support from churches and African-American groups while fallout from the opinion settles.
And then there are some lawmakers who want to bring the issue before voters — to amend the constitution to approve marriage equality.
[O]ne Democrat wants to bring the issue directly before voters as soon as possible. Delegate Frank M. Conaway Jr., D-Baltimore, sponsored a bill that would redefine marriage in Maryland as between two consenting adults. As a constitutional amendment, it would require a referendum. The delegate is not the first Conaway to be involved in this issue. Conaway’s father, Baltimore City Circuit Court Clerk Frank M. Conaway Sr., was sued in 2004 by a group of gay couples for refusing to issue them marriage licenses.
Judge M. Brooke Murdock initially ruled in favor of the couples, finding that prohibiting them from marrying violated the state’s Equal Rights Amendment. Dwyer attempted to impeach Murdock. The decision was reversed by the Court of Appeals, setting legal precedent that opponents have cited against Gansler’s recent opinion.
But the younger Conaway said he aims to break years of political stagnation in the House Judiciary Committee with his bill. Conaway said he sees himself, Barnes and Dwyer as united in that effort, if not in ideology. “You can see now there are three people on the same committee that are making motions towards resolving the same problem,” he said. “We are trying to resolve the issue this year, instead of in the next three years.”
Not that everyone is thrilled.
“(T)his would not be the way to go for a number of reasons,” said [Morgan Meneses-Sheets, executive director of Equality Maryland.]. “To have the majority voting on the rights of a minority population is just never a good idea, and it’s a pretty unacceptable way to try to make progress.”