The passage of marriage equality legislation in New York is a watershed moment for the gay rights community that could build momentum for a similar push in Maryland that fell short earlier this year after extensive debate.
The New York bill, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed into law Friday hours after its approval in the Republican-controlled Senate, sets the stage for other states to follow suit, advocates said.
“The New York debate is illustrative to what public support can do in order to give lawmakers the public support and the backing that they need to make the right decision,” said Michael Cole-Schwartz, communications director for Human Rights Campaign, a national civil rights organization that supports lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals.
Gay rights supporters in Maryland can learn a lot from the effort in the Empire State, which will join Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Iowa and Washington, D.C., as places where same-sex couples can marry.
When the New York law takes effect in late July, it will more than double the number of Americans who live in a marriage equality jurisdiction, from just more than 5 percent to roughly 11 percent, Cole-Schwartz noted.
Del. Heather R. Mizeur (D-Dist 20), one of seven openly gay members of the House of Delegates, hailed the New York legislature’s action, particularly the support of four Republican senators that accounted for the 33 to 29 final vote on Friday.
“It’s love that makes a family, but marriage that protects it,” she said in a Monday morning interview on “Newstalk with Bruce DePuyt.”
A bill that would have allowed same-sex couples to marry in Maryland passed the Senate this year, but was shelved in the House after hours of emotional testimony and debate. Supporters acknowledged they were two votes shy of passage and did not want the bill to be brought up for a vote knowing it would fail.
But they vowed to redouble their efforts ahead of the 2012 session and work on changing the votes of moderate lawmakers who told gay colleagues they were moved during this year’s debate.
State Sen. Allen H. Kittleman (R-Dist. 9) of West Friendship was the only Republican in either chamber to publicly support the marriage equality legislation. He hopes the support of the four GOP senators in New York will encourage more Republicans to join him in endorsing the bill.
“I think it does say something about this issue becoming more acceptable to the Republican Party,” he said Monday. “What happened in New York demonstrates that this is not an issue supported by one party. It’s a good message to Republican lawmakers that you can support this bill and still be a good member of this party.”
Mizeur of Silver Spring said that another key to next year’s effort will be a more visible role by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) who has said he would sign the bill if the legislature approved it but largely stayed out of the limelight on the issue this year.
“Governor O’Malley was incredibly helpful to us behind the scenes in the last session, but if we’re going to be successful next year, we can’t run a closeted campaign for marriage equality,” she said.
In New York, Cuomo “set the standard for the way in which a governor can show profound leadership on this issue,” Cole-Schwartz said.