Mixed Messages on Gay Marriage: Victory Likely But Not Inevitable

By Len Lazarick, Len@MarylandReporter.com

(September 08, 2011)—Conflicting — though supporting — views of gay marriage legislation were aired at Wednesday evening’s Equality Maryland fundraiser honoring state officials.

Same-sex marriage will ultimately prevail in Maryland, said the attorney general.

Equality for committed gay couples is “not inevitable” and will require lots of hard work, said the lieutenant governor.

The organization pushing gay marriage needs more money to guarantee success, said gay legislators committed to the cause.

Despite the differences in what they said, speakers had a consensus on a scenario of what will happen next year.

Gov. Martin O’Malley, who got the loudest whoops and hollers of the evening, will propose legislation making same-sex marriage legal.

It will pass the General Assembly by a few votes and the governor will sign it.

Opponents will petition the law to referendum, and it will face a tough fight in the 2012 election.

Court battle likely

Beyond that sketch, Attorney General Doug Gansler was the most hopeful about the future of same-sex marriage.

He sees same-sex marriage as “a generational issue,” with people under 35 supporting it – or not much caring about it – along with right-thinking elders.

Gansler has already declared the validity of out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples, an official opinion that advocates of the standard one man-one woman definition found so abhorrent that lawmakers sought to impeach him, the AG said.

“Those people on the other side are pretty rabid,” Gansler said, referring to them as “right-wing myopic folks.”

Gansler sees gay marriage as “a human rights issue,” but based on polls and election results in other states, he thinks the legislature will pass a gay marriage law but a referendum to defeat it might succeed.

Despite that, “This will ultimately go to the courts,” Gansler said, and “clearly current law is not constitutional,” based on due process and equal protection of the laws.

He believes that the three new judges O’Malley appointed to the Court of Appeals will help throw out Maryland’s current one-man-and-one-woman marriage law, which was upheld several years ago.

“We will win,” Gansler said, “and it will get done.”

With O’Malley in the audience, Gansler also defended the governor, who previously seemed lukewarm on gay marriage. In July, O’Malley said he would make it one of his legislative priorities for 2012.

“Governor O’Malley has been sympathetic to this issue from its inception,” Gansler said. O’Malley had said in earlier years that he favored civil unions, but the notion that O’Malley was not really on board, “that’s wrong,” Gansler said.

Battle for equality not easy

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown – a potential rival to Gansler for governor as O’Malley’s two-term limit is up – reminded the audience of several hundred of the long hard slog for civil rights legislation.

“The battle for equality has never been easy,” said Brown, who might have been the only elected official from Prince George’s County in the room. “The battle is not inevitable.”

When he arrived in the legislature in 1999, Brown said “marriage equality was not even on the radar.” Republican

Gov. Bob Ehrlich vetoed a bill to grant the right to make medical decisions to gay partners, and Republicans even sought to have marriage between one man and one woman enshrined in the state constitution, not just in law as it is now, he recalled.

Brown believes that supporters of gay marriage will have to form coalitions in every county to approve the bill if it comes to referendum. “Every Marylander’s vote will be essential,” he said.

Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett, along with Brown one of the few African Americans in the room, recalled how hard he had to fight in 1991 as president of the County Council to pass local legislation forbidding discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

“It was a lonely and difficult fight,” Leggett recalled, and his picture was hung in effigy.

Give till its hurts

The evening included introductions by the openly gay mayors of Chevy Chase and Kensington, and a fervent pitch for more contributions to aid the effort from everyone attending. Many of the elected officials in attendance and some who couldn’t attend – such as Comptroller Peter Franchot and Howard County Executive Ken Ulman — donated more than $1,000 each from their campaign treasuries.

“We have to give till until it hurts,” said Del. Heather Mizeur, an openly gay member from Takoma Park.

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