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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Same Sex Marriage Vote was a Test of Character

With a vote of 72-67 Maryland's House of Delegates passed legislation that would legalize same sex marriage in the Free State. The measure will now move to the state Senate where it passed last year. Early indications are the measure could see a vote by mid-week.

Even as the bill moved the floor of the House last week, it was unclear whether the votes were there to pass the measure. With a key supporter in the hospital the late support of a few members became key. Though the bill must pass the Senate and is likely to face a petition challenge and a referendum in November there are a few folks who warrant specific recognition for the role they played in the House vote - Dels. John Bohanan and A. Wade Kach and Governor Martin O'Malley and Lt. Governor Anthony Brown.

Del. John Bohanan (District 29B)
Bohanan stands out from most other supporters in very significant ways. Bohanan represents southern St. Mary's county. The county is the fatest growing county in the state and home to the Patuxent Naval Air station. The large military presence has steadily changed the political dynamic of the county. Once a solidly Democratic area (in local elections), St. Mary's has been trending Republican. Since 2008 the GOP has added 4,000 voters to its rolls - twice that of the Democrats. At present, Democrats and Republicans claim an equal share of voters. In 2010, Republicans swept all but one seat on the county commission and Bohanan won a narrow re-election against a very novice challenger. For Bohanan, the safe bet would have been to vote against same sex marriage. He would have paid no penalty. When asked about his decision to support the bill, Bohanan said “Once I began to look at this through the eyes of my own kids and other young people, it became pretty clear... You want them to have love, and if that’s how they want to express it, you want them to be able to do it openly.” Bohanan is likely to see serious political fallout in his home district. What he deserves is recognition for making the right call in an era when too many politicians care only about winning the next election.

Del. A. Wade Kach (5B)
Kach was one of two Republicans in the House to support the measure and as such their votes were crucial to ensuring passage (the other Republican, Bob Costa of District 33B, merits an honorable mention). In his role as chair of the Democratic Governors Association Governor O'Malley has been merciless in his attacks on Republicans as right wing extremists. Kach's conservative credentials stretch back to his college years when he was chair of the Maryland Federation of College Republicans. There is little doubt that when O'Malley is speaking about the dinosaur wing of the Republican party he is thinking of folks like Kach. Kach could've denied O'Malley this crucial legislative victory. In doing so, he would dealt an embarrassing blow to O'Malley's future aspirations. I'm sure for Kach the temptation was great - instead he did what he felt was right. Perhaps the best part of Kach's support, however, was his impassioned conservative defense of same sex marriage. Kach said that listening to the testimony of gay parents ultimately changed his mind. He then linked his vote to his pro-life beliefs, "As a pro-life Republican, I believe it’s my responsibility to make sure children are taken care of... If you care about children" vote for this bill. Kach reminds us that for many people, being pro-life is not rooted in a particular religious belief but is rather an issue of civil rights and protecting the vulnerable. By linking the two issues Kach has contributed greatly to the conservative argument for same sex marriage.

Martin O'Malley, Governor
After standing on the sidelines last year O'Malley realized his mistake and decided last summer that he would personally push for marriage equality in Maryland. O'Malley has national political aspirations and it would be easy to dismiss his decision as a simple political calculation - after all New York governor Andrew Cuomo was able to get same sex marriage through a Republican state Senate. But O'Malley actually took a big risk - something he rarely does. O'Malley made legalization of same sex marriage his highest profile priority in the 2012 legislative session - having no idea whether it would pass. Had the House again killed the measure O'Malley would have been viewed a failure. His ability to govern his own party, never mind his state, would have been called into question. Yet he decided to quite literally stake his reputation on passing this bill. He deserves tremendous credit for the House vote.

Anthony Brown, Lt. Governor
This may seem an odd choice, but hear me out... As Lt. Governor, Brown had no reason to say anything about the vote in the House. Brown could've stayed silent and that may have been the politically wise thing to do. The Democratic party in Maryland is divided over the issue of same sex marriage. While white Democrats clearly support marriage equality, Black Democrats just as clearly oppose it. This year, same as last, Many African-American religious leaders - especially in Brown's home turf of PG county - spoke out against gay marriage. Brown is very likely to seek the party nomination for governor in 2014. No Lt. Governor has made that jump since the office was reinstated in 1970. Given the likelihood of a four man race I consider Brown to be the early favorite in a primary owing mostly to the substantial African-American vote in the state. Just after the House approved the same sex marriage bill Brown issued this statement: "The Maryland House of Delegates has cast a historic vote in favor of stronger families, bringing us as close as Maryland has ever been to true marriage equality.  When two people come together in union, regardless of gender, and commit themselves to loving and supporting one another, they deserve the privileges and the responsibilities of marriage." But 60% of black voters in Maryland oppose same sex marriage. Brown could've remained silent, but by coming out in favor he could be a crucial voice in the effort to fight the referendum effort in November. But he does so at the risk of weakening his support among a crucial voting bloc. That's political courage.

To be certain, there are many other members who deserve some recognition. Personally I have to wonder how any delegate could've voted no after Del. Maggie McIntosh's deeply moving recollection of her coming out and what that meant for her personally and professionally - but 67 members did. Certainly I do not wish to diminish the efforts of any lawmaker who made passage of this bill possible. But in this day, I think it is worth taking a minute to recognize folks who are willing to act in a manner that may be against their immediate best interest in pursuit of the best interests of the state.