Thursday, February 23, 2012

Maryland for Marriage Equality

45 years ago this week the Maryland General Assembly voted to repeal the state's ban on inter-racial marriage. The state hardly led on this issue, the state only passed the repeal once the Supreme Court accepted the Loving v. Virginia case that ultimately resulted in the declaration that all bans on inter-racial marriage were unconstitutional.

Last week the Maryland House of Delegates voted 72-67 to legalize marriage equality. Today the state Senate voted 25-22 to pass the measure. Governor O'Malley has promised to sign the bill.

This is historic. Maryland now becomes one of only 8 states to allow same sex marriage. More important, it's one of the very few to have have legalized same sex marriage via the legislature rather than through the courts. It is a distinction that will long be remembered. Maryland tends to be a cautious state, but on this issue the state has become a leader.

The law is sure to be subject to a petition challenge placing it before the voters in November. This the right of every Marylander. Proponents are worried. In every state where same sex marriage has been placed on the ballot it has been rejected. But of course, one state has to be the first to end that streak - perhaps it will be Maryland.

The most significant bloc of opposition in the state is African-American voters. Their collective vote will decide the fate of the law. There is a tremendous opportunity for Lt. Governor Anthony Brown to become a point person for the O'Malley administration arguing for public support of the measure. It wouldn't hurt if President Obama abandoned his support for civil unions and endorsed same sex marriage as well...

For now, however, Governor Martin O'Malley deserves credit for forcefully backing this measure. Last year his leadership was absent and that absence was felt. This year, though likely motivated by his own presidential aspirations, O'Malley staked his reputation on passing this bill - and it passed.

Now that battle moves on to the ballot box. It's unfortunate and inappropriate that a question of basic civil rights will be subject to voter approval- but such is the law of the state.