The passage of legislation last week allowing same-sex marriage in New York may have marked a watershed moment for gay rights advocates, but it is unlikely to influence the debate in Maryland, numerous lawmakers said this week.
“I don’t see it as having a huge impact on what happens here,” said Del. C.T. Wilson (D-Dist. 28) of White Plains. He planned to vote against a bill this year to grant marriage equality that was shelved before a full vote was taken in the House of Delegates.
Observers said passing the law in New York is a big step that could provide momentum for the issue elsewhere. When the Empire State 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, said Michael Cole-Schwartz, communications director for Human Rights Campaign, a national civil rights organization that supports lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals.
But it’s more complex than just assuming the dominoes will fall after New York, said Del. Nicholaus R. Kipke (R-Dist. 31) of Pasadena.
“The positions of lawmakers are pretty well-entrenched on the issue,” he said.
Kipke also planned to oppose the marriage equality bill this year and said advocates should pursue a bill allowing civil unions for same-sex couples, which he would support.
He predicted a vast majority of state legislators and citizens embrace that approach, and it would be more difficult to overturn in a potential referendum campaign.
Just days after same-sex advocates celebrated victory in New York, they suffered defeat when Rhode Island lawmakers approved a civil unions bill. Gay rights advocates say the establishment of separate civil union legislation is discriminatory, because it creates a separate legal class for gay and lesbian couples who want to wed.
Although the week’s events in New York and Rhode Island represent progress in the nationwide quest for equal rights, even advocates say it’s naïve to believe they will move the needle in Maryland.
“While it certainly puts some wind in your sails and gives you some hope that another state can do this, it’s a completely different situation,” said Darrell Carrington, an Annapolis lobbyist who had served on the board of directors of Equality Maryland before resigning last month over a dispute in the organization’s structure.
The biggest difference in New York was the strong backing of Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who signed the bill into law June 24, hours after its approval in the Republican-controlled Senate.
“The New York debate is illustrative to what public support can do in order to give lawmakers the backing that they need to make the right decision,” Cole-Schwartz said.
Del. Heather R. Mizeur (D-Dist. 20) of Silver Spring, one of eight openly gay lawmakers in the General Assembly, said that a key to next year’s effort will be getting Gov. Martin O’Malley to play a more visible role in support of the initiative. This year, the governor said he would have signed the bill if the legislature approved it, but only quietly lobbied lawmakers to vote for the measure.
“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,” Mizeur 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.
Five other states and the District of Columbia allow homosexual couples to marry.
After the marriage equality proposal passed the Maryland Senate this year with unexpected ease, observers predicted it would sail through the House of Delegates, which was considered the more progressive chamber.
But as debate wore on and the issue consumed the legislature’s agenda for days, several delegates expected to vote in favor of the bill peeled off their support, and it was sent back to committee before the full chamber could cast a vote.
Supporters acknowledged that they were two or three votes shy of passage and did not want the bill to be brought up for a vote knowing it would fail.
Sen. Allan 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.”
Del. Robert A. Costa (R-Dist. 33B) of Shady Side said that while he could have supported the marriage equality bill, a poll of his constituents found nearly three times as many opposed to the legislation.
“As an elected representative of the people, I can’t always vote my conscience,” he said, noting that he polls constituents on about 10 of the more controversial bills each year. “They made it pretty loud and clear during the session that they were opposed to it,” he said. “I have to do what my boss tells me to do.”
If the issue resurfaces next year, Costa said he will conduct another poll to gauge whether constituents’ views have changed. But he also predicted that after a year of lobbying, gay rights supporters likely will be able to secure enough commitments to ensure the bill’s passage.
“I think some of the people, their positions will evolve based on what’s happened in New York,” Costa said.
Wilson said his position against the marriage equality bill also reflected his constituents’ views. Like Kipke, he said he would support a civil unions bill.
“Many of the citizens I’ve talked to say they want to have input. They want to decide whether this goes forward,” he said. “They’re not against homosexuality; they’re not against gay marriage. They just want to protect the religious sanctity of marriage.”