Anti-Gay Group Ready to Try for Marriage Ban Vote if Maryland Grants Equality

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday July 26, 2011

The wave of excitement and optimism prompted by the start of marriage equality in New York has spilled over in New Jersey and Maryland, where talk of bringing family parity to fruition has started up once more.

Maryland's governor, Martin O'Malley, told the press during a July 23 media conference that he plans to back legislation next year that would extend state-level marriage parity to gay and lesbian families.

If such a bill were to be approved by the state's lawmakers, Maryland would become the ninth state to approve equal marriage rights for same-sex couples. Two states, California and Maine, saw marriage equality granted, but voters in California rescinded the right from gay families six months later by passing Proposition 8 during the November, 2008 elections, following a bitter and deeply divisive campaign that anti-gay groups like the National Organization for Marriage helped to organize.

NOM was also in the front lines a year later, when Maine voters similarly voted the marriage rights of their gay and lesbian fellow citizens out of existence. The state's lawmakers had approved marriage equality legislation, but the 2009 vote repealed the law before it could take effect.

Currently, six states and the District of Columbia provide marriage equality to gay and lesbian couples.

A Marriage equality bill passed the Maryland senate earlier this year, but did not clear the state assembly. GLBT equality advocates seeing how effective New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was at shepherding the marriage law through Albany less than two years after the state senate killed a similar bill had hoped that O'Malley might follow suit in the next Maryland legislative session.

O'Malley indicated that he would step up the challenge, telling the press, "I think we all try to learn from one another. I'm sure there were things that [lawmakers in New York] learned from our inability to get this done. And similarly we will learn from what they did."

But foes of marriage parity for same-sex families are already laying plans to place a ballot initiative before voters, reported the Advocate on July 25.

"I believe [marriage equality] has a good chance of passing," Maryland State Del. Pat McDonough, a Republican, told the Washington Examiner, the Advocate reported.

"If it does pass, it'll definitely end up in a voter referendum," added McDonough. "Conservatives and religious people against gay marriage are going to show up to vote en masse."

The push for marriage equality in Maryland has gained a new coalition, Marylanders for Marriage Equality, the Advocate noted. A similar coalition formed as Cuomo's campaign for marriage equality in New York was gathering momentum a few months ago.

In New Jersey, 150 attended a rally for full-fledged marriage equality over the weekend. Currently, New Jersey offers civil unions, which LGBT equality advocates say falls short of true family parity, but which anti-gay activists maintain is a stepping-stone to marriage and, therefore, should not be granted to same-sex families.

But while the surge of excitement accompanying New York's marriage equality has been felt around the nation, A July 25 Associated Press article predicted that the cause of family parity would receive only a limited benefit from the new law.

"In all, 30 states have adopted constitutional amendments aimed at limiting marriage to one-man, one-woman unions," the AP story noted. "In a few of them -- California and Oregon, for example -- activists hold out hope of repealing the bans.

"That outcome seems improbable, though, in many heartland and Southern states, and gay-rights leaders there are eying more modest short-term goals."

Voters in Minnesota will decide next year whether that state will become the 32nd to write anti-discrimination into its bedrock law. But GLBT equality advocates, noting recent and rapid gains for America's GLBTs, including much greater social acceptance, say that there is hope Minnesota voters might make history by decisively rejecting such an amendment proposal -- and possible lend momentum to a reversal of the last decade's trend in anti-gay ballot initiatives.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.