Marriage equality in Maryland: still a long road ahead

Heather Mizeur (Photo credit: Maryland State Archives)

Marriage equality in Maryland looks set to take one of two paths—and neither is likely to enable same-sex couples to marry in the Free State for many months to come. First, the State House could follow the Senate and pass a marriage equality bill, which Governor Martin O’Malley (D) has said he would sign; but if that happens, opponents have vowed to launch a campaign to put the measure before voters in November 2012, and that would put the legislation on hold until then. Second, the marriage equality bill could fail in the House, thus ending its chances this session.

The House Judiciary Committee held an eight-hour-long hearing on the bill February 25 and will likely vote this week. It heard testimony from the six openly gay or lesbian members of the House, along with dozens of people on both sides of the issue, including Morgan Meneses-Sheets, executive director of Equality Maryland, and Maggie Gallagher, president of the New Jersey-based National Organization for Marriage.

House Majority Leader Kumar Barve (D-Montgomery) told the committee, “For me, this is about rights, respect, family, and love.” He spoke of same-sex couples he knows, including a cousin who is a gay dad. If the bill passes, he said, “My marriage is not going to be diminished one iota.”

Delegate Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery) spoke about her relationship with her spouse Deborah, who remains “a legal stranger” to her. She urged delegates to vote for the bill because they believe in “the sacredness of marriage” and “the pledge to forever” and because they feel “the state has a role in protecting these commitments.”

Opponents spoke in favor of a competing bill, introduced by Delegate Don Dwyer (R-Anne Arundel), which would ban marriages and other legal relationships for same-sex couples under the state constitution.

The state Senate passed its version of the marriage equality bill on a vote of 25 to 22 February 24, after a debate that legislators on both sides commended for its civility. State Senator Allan Kittleman (R-Howard County) was the only Republican supporter.

Before a preliminary vote February 23, the Senate adopted two amendments to clarify that clergy, churches, and other religious institutions could refuse services, goods, or public accommodations for same-sex weddings.

It rejected two amendments that would have allowed adoption/foster care agencies and individuals authorized to perform marriages to cite religious convictions in order to refuse services to same-sex couples. It also rejected amendments that would have required that same-sex marriage “not be promoted in a public elementary school through teaching or educational materials” and that would have allowed public school teachers to use their religious beliefs as a reason to refuse to teach materials that “promote same-sex marriage.”

The one win for opponents of the bill was in changing the name of the bill from the “Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act” to the “Civil Marriage Protection Act.”

During the Senate debate, bill sponsor Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery) invoked the recent announcement by the Obama administration that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has concluded one section of the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional and that it will not defend that part in two pending cases. Raskin said everyone should understand “how deeply invested Maryland is, as a state,” in that change, and “how significant” will be the more than 1,000 federal benefits that married same-sex couples in Maryland would receive.

But several opponents indicated that, even if the bill passes, it would be put before voters in a November 2012 referendum.

Senator Nancy Jacobs told the chamber, “This is an issue that is important enough to the people of Maryland that we’re going to be taking it to referendum.” She indicated such efforts were already underway, adding “I just guarantee” it will be on the ballot.

“When we knew we did not have the votes [to defeat the measure], that’s what we started investing our time in,” said Jacobs. “We’ve met with people all around the country who have run successful referendums on this issue.”

The state constitution allows voters to submit laws to a referendum if they can collect enough signatures: 55,736. Collection can start as soon as a bill passes the legislature. One-third of the signatures must be submitted by June 1, and the rest by June 30.

If enough signatures are collected for a referendum, no same-sex marriages would be allowed until 30 days after the referendum—at which point, the results of the referendum would determine whether they could begin.

It remains an open question, however, whether sufficient signatures can be gathered. In 2001, an attempt to hold a referendum to repeal the state’s new law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation failed after the ACLU of Maryland won a lawsuit charging that referendum proponents had not collected enough valid signatures.

Two other states have rescinded marriage equality after voter referenda: Maine in 2009 and California in 2008. California’s ban—Proposition 8—was declared unconstitutional by a U.S. district court in August 2010, but the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has issued a stay on that ruling, pending an appeal.

If the Maryland House does not pass the bill, a referendum is a moot point.

The marriage equality bill has 58 sponsors, but is “a couple short” of the 71 votes needed for passage, said Delegate Mizeur, in an interview with on February 25. She expressed confidence that they would find the votes needed. But last week, Delegate Melvin Stukes (D-Baltimore City) said he would be withdrawing as a sponsor (he had been No. 59), after he realized the bill would grant full marriage rights instead of civil unions.

At the start of the House hearing last Friday, committee chair Joseph Vallario (D- Prince George’s and Calvert) said he hoped the committee would take up the bill near the beginning of the week of February 28. His office could not confirm an exact date by press time. Twelve of the 22 members of the Judiciary Committee are co-sponsors of the bill.

One Response to Marriage equality in Maryland: still a long road ahead

  1. Oscar says:



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