Gov. Martin O’Malley urged people to hit the streets on behalf of marriage equality at a fundraiser Sunday at Kensington Town Hall.
The event raised $17,175 for Marylanders for Marriage Equality, a 147-member coalition working to support Question 6, a referendum on the ballot Nov. 6. It affirms a law passed earlier this year by the state legislature that grants same-sex couples marriage licenses as of January 2013.
Opponents of gay marriage, led by the Maryland Marriage Alliance, collected enough signatures to test the legislation in a vote of the people. Of the approximately 160,000 signatures, more than 20,000 came from Montgomery County, said Derek McCoy, chairman of Maryland Marriage Alliance-No on 6.
The issue is personal for event organizer, Kensington Mayor Pete Fosselman.
He and his partner of 15 years, Duane Rollins, wear wedding bands on their right hand to symbolize the commitment they cannot legally make in Maryland. The couple was ready to pledge their lives to each other a decade ago but has waited until they can marry in their home state, Fosselman said.
“The longer you’re together, the more important [marriage] becomes,” Rollins said. “You have all the trappings of a normal relationship — you’ve got the real estate and family trappings — but there’s nothing formalized about the relationship.”
Stakes are high less than 45 days from what participants agreed is a historic moment. If Question 6 passes, Maryland would become the first state to approve gay marriage by a popular vote. The law would not force religious groups to marry same-sex couples.
The fundraiser attracted a who’s who of Maryland elected officials, including U.S. Rep. Christopher Van Hollen Jr. (D-Dist. 8), Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, Attorney General Doug Gansler, Sen. Richard Madaleno (D-Dist. 18) of Kensington, Del. C. William Frick (D-Dist. 16) of Bethesda, and Del. Jeff Waldstreicher (D-Dist. 18) of Kensington.
Local elected officials included Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1) of Bethesda, Councilmembers Marc Elrich (D-At large) of Takoma Park, Nancy Floreen (D-At large) of Garrett Park, and Hans Riemer (D-At large) of Silver Spring.
Also attending were Gaithersburg Mayor Sidney Katz, and Gaithersburg City Councilmembers Ryan Spiegel and Cathy Drzyzgula.
It is a show of support that would have been impossible 10 years ago, Gansler said during a speech at the event, which featured “Gen Silent,” a documentary film about the difficulties faced by older lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual people. Tickets were $100, $50 for students, and $500 for sponsors.
The more than 150 in attendance were urged to volunteer their time phone banking, canvassing the streets, and organizing friends and neighbors on behalf of marriage equality.
“We did not choose to defend it at the ballot, but sometimes Maryland is called on to do something other states have never done,” O’Malley said. “The people that are opposed to this are throwing a lot more money than the people who are in support.”
The coalition is expecting to have a budget of $5 million to $7 million, and in the coming weeks will begin airing ads in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., a media market that includes Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, said Marylanders for Marriage Equality spokesman Kevin Nix.
Every night in Silver Spring, 5-10 volunteers spend their time making calls to potential voters, but they need more help to defeat the barrage of negative messages that are sure to come, said Carrie Evans, a board member of Marylanders for Marriage Equality.
The No on 6 crowd also is using Silver Spring as home base for phone banking in Montgomery County and surrounding areas, McCoy said.
It is unclear how much the group will spend to try to defeat Question 6. McCoy declined to provide an estimated budget. He said outreach efforts will include rallies, door-to-door canvassing, and ads on television, radio, and in print.
“People have the right to live as they want to, but they do not have the right to redefine marriage,” he said.
Among those who will say yes to same-sex marriage Nov. 6 is Kensington resident Lucy Cannon, a proud Republican who attended the Kensington fundraiser. As an elementary school librarian in Fairfax, Va., she said she has seen children impacted by the prejudice of fellow students. She remembers one boy in particular whose two mothers were the cause of teasing by his peers.
“When he was in kindergarten it wasn’t an issue,” Cannon said. “You could see by the time he was 10 years old it had become an issue. It had changed his personality.”
Marriage equality is backed by Affirmation Gay and Lesbian Mormons, a nonprofit serving gay, lesbian, transgender, and bisexual mormons, said David Melson of Olney. Melson is the immediate past president of Affirmation.
“For better or for worse, we have tied most of our civil rights for LGTB people to marriage,” he said.
Same-sex couples have an ally in the Association of Free & Welcoming Baptists, who were represented at the fundraiser by Reverend Jill McCrory of Kensington. Member churches welcome all parishioners regardless of their sexual orientation. The group has three member churches in Virginia, one in Washington, D.C., and none in Maryland, according to its website.
“I am working hard to get one in Maryland, but so far that hasn’t happened,” McCrory said.