Maryland is poised to achieve marriage equality for same sex couples in the next three years.
By Dan Furmansky | Contact
Dan Furmansky was served as the Executive Director of Equality Maryland when he wrote this article.
The organization is a lobby, foundation, and political action committee devoted to making life better for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Marylanders and their families.
During his tenure, EQMD has launched a statewide marriage equality campaign, passed a hate crimes measure, changed advance directive laws to benefit gay couples, enacted measures to require health insurance companies to provide benefits to domestic partners upon request of an employer, and much more.
In addition to his LGBT statewide activism, Dan serves on the board of Progressive Maryland and the Public Justice Center.
| || |
Maryland, the Old Line State, is poised to achieve marriage for same sex couples in the next three years. Equality Maryland, partnering with the ACLU of Maryland, filed a lawsuit in 2004 to challenge the constitutionality of denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples in this state.
Sadly, a divided high court ruled 4-3 in September 2007 to reverse that decision, but now Equality Maryland is pushing full steam ahead for equal marriage rights in the legislature.
A constitutional amendment banning marriage for same sex couples has never gained any traction in the state -- not even when Baltimore Circuit Judge Brooke Murdock ruled in January 2006 at the start of the legislative session that denying marriage licenses was unconstitutional. Furthermore, the only "Defense of Marriage" related bill ever passed in state occurred in 1973.
Equality Maryland, our coalition partners and legislative allies have our eyes fixed on marriage equality and believe we can accomplish this by 2011. In January, Equality Maryland worked with legislators to introduce the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act with 49 cosponsors in the House and Senate.
The 50th signature to the marriage equality bills was to have been State Senator Gwendolyn Britt of Prince George's County, an African American woman who was a Freedom Rider in the 1960s and went to jail for her convictions. She died suddenly just three days before she would have filed the bill as its lead Senate sponsor.
Senate sponsors are now State Sen. Rich Madaleno, an openly gay man who is considered a budget leader in the General Assembly, and State Sen. Jamie Raskin, a well known constitutional law professor.
On the House side, there are five lead sponsors; two of the five, Dels. Ben Barnes and Todd Schuler, are freshmen delegates from diverse, working class areas who consider this issue their defining moment in the General Assembly. The three other lead House sponsors are Dels. Maggie McIntosh, Anne Kaiser, and Heather Mizeur, all openly gay women, one of whom is a Committee Chair.
PROSPECTS FOR MARRIAGE EQUALITY LEGISLATION FOR SAME SEX COUPLES
Maryland's legislative session runs from mid-January to mid-April. Despite the very real shot of passing marriage in the House of Delegates, 2008 probably won't be the slam dunk year for achieving full marriage rights in Maryland. We are still a few votes shy of the necessary super rmajority needed in the Senate to withstand a filibuster (29 out of 47).
Over the past year, Equality Maryland has embarked on an aggressive door to door canvass campaign in key areas of the state to target a number of these legislators, collecting more than 13,000 postcards from pro marriage equality constituents that we have delivered to legislators and the Governor and leaving educational pamphlets at the door. At the critical time, more such canvassing and robo calling will be necessary to counter the anti-LGBT forces that will rise up loudly. The Governor has quietly indicated his receptivity to signing a marriage equality bill if it reaches his desk, and neither the Senate President or Speaker of the House has indicated they will stand in the way of legislation going through if the votes are there.
A large majority of legislators in the General Assembly recognize the need to move forward protections for same sex couples - some simply need to be convinced that ending discrimination means ending discrimination in marriage and supporting "gay" marriage.
HOW TO ACHIEVE MARRIAGE IN MARYLAND
While it is critical to prepare the General Assembly for passing a marriage equality bill, we also recognize that we must vigorously continue with a public education campaign so the public may understand that only marriage can truly provide equality to same-sex couples and their children.
Key legislators must be moved by their constituents and the Democratic Party must see that the public is not opposed to a change in our marriage laws. All polls of the Maryland electorate indicate a significant majority in support of legal protections for same sex couples through either marriage equality or civil unions. Again, we must move Marylanders to understand that nothing short of marriage will truly end the discrimination faced by families headed by same-sex couples.
Grassroots and direct lobbying will help us to successfully pass marriage in Maryland. We are targeting our efforts geographically and demographically, paying special attention to Baltimore City, Prince George's County, and Baltimore County, as well as to getting independent, African American and Catholic constituents to communicate with their elected officials. Our core lobbying group also includes the Human Rights Campaign and ACLU of Maryland.
Public support will increase as we identify new opinion leaders who support marriage equality in our target communities, highlight stories of harm so the public understands what marriage discrimination means, engage new faith leaders -- especially African Americans and Catholics -- as spokespeople, and further strengthen our coalition of civil rights and labor organizations.
Visibility Campaign. Equality Maryland has launched a statewide "civil marriage is a civil right" campaign with yard signs in neighborhoods from the Eastern Shore to Carroll County, as well as banners on the sides of churches and other places of worship. Our website - www.MarylandersforMarriage.org - is generating signatures through a petition and giving individuals creative actions to help achieve marriage equality now in Maryland. We continue to hold successful annual Lobby Days, rallies and town hall meetings.
BUILDING COALITIONS FOR MARRIAGE EQUALITY NOW
In 2005, the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC) and Equality Maryland joined forces to create Jumping the Broom: A Black Perspective on Same Gender Marriage, which is now being used in other states. We have teamed with NBJC on town halls, trainings and closed-door clergy forums across the state. We will continue to hold town hall meetings and forums for civil rights groups, Central Committees, and universities. In addition, we will continue to highlight DVDs and publications that reach out to target communities and use the internet to spread the visibility of these tools.
The Maryland Black Family Alliance (MBFA) was launched in late 2007 - www.MBFA.org. Its primary purpose is to frame the discourse among Black Marylanders about marriage for same-sex couples. This unprecedented alliance led by African American straight allies is emphasizing the idea that recognition of same sex relationships furthers the social and economic welfare of Black families. The caliber of founding members is very impressive, including leaders from the academic, religious, social services, and political spheres. Work in 2008 will focus on various public education opportunities including forums, Voices of Equality, op-eds, and media training. Elbridge James, the Chair, is active with the state branch of the NAACP.
The Religious Coalition for Civil Marriage Equality, led by Rev. Larry Brumfeld, an African American licensed Pastor in the Church of the Brethren from rural Carroll County, has attended forums across the state, lobby days in Annapolis, and has created sign-on letters to legislators with more than 200 signatories.
Based on the hard work these organizations are doing and the current political climate in Maryland, we believe we will pass several key protections for LGBT families and individuals in 2008 and pave the way towards marriage equality in the next three years.