Last year's disappointment over the failure of the marriage equality bill to permit gay marriage was tempered by Gov. O'Malley indicating that he will advocate for the bill this session as one of his priority pieces of legislation. Maryland has a progressive population and has always seemed to be fertile ground for this type of legislation. The Governor seems to have been encouraged by the positive reaction that New York Gov. Cuomo received after pushing for this legislation in that state.
We seem to have moved past the debate as to why civil unions are not sufficient to grant equal status to gay unions. Most laws and regulations stipulate marriage and not civil unions. Even with last year's ruling by the Maryland Attorney General that gay marriages performed in other states would be recognized in Maryland there are many situations where gay marriages are not on an equal footing in Maryland. Areas outside the jurisdiction of the Attorney General and state government are in a gray area. One example is that private employers may not offer health insurance coverage to same sex partners.
If the legislation is passed this year it will certainly be challenged by opponents through the referendum process. So most likely the referendum would go to a vote in November of next year in the Presidential election voting. This would be one of the most hard fought political battles we have seen in Maryland in a long time. You can be sure that a great deal of outside money would be coming into the State on both sides and Maryland may gain some national attention that we don't usually receive as a dependable blue state.
Like many issues that have different rulings in different states the issue of gay marriage will ultimately be a decision before the United States Supreme Court. The California referendum that overturned that state's gay marriage ruling is now before a federal court and will be a major test for gay marriage when it ultimately ends up before the US Supreme Court. Given the political nature of the present Court's rulings, seen in the Court's ruling in Bush v. Gore in 2000, the possibility is very real that the Court's conservative majority would not look favorably on gay marriage. This is true even though Justice Thomas' wife Ginny is a vocal activist against gay marriage and the ethical position he should take is to recluse himself in this case.
The issue of gay marriage is getting most of the attention today with gay organizations but the biggest hurdle that works against gay rights today is the federal Defense of Marriage Act or more commonly known at DOMA. This regressive legislation was signed into law back in the 1990's by Bill Clinton when he thought that he could gain conservative votes for his other legislative priorities. He sacrificed the rights of gays to gain political support. I am sure it is not something he is proud of today. Because of this legislation federal benefits can only be received by heterosexual couples. Just as Don't Ask/ Don't Tell was ended, the DOMA legislation will be overturned at some point in the future---it just may not be quick. The acceptance of gay marriage by persons under 35 will make it just a matter of time. As has been quoted by many people "The arc of the moral universe is long but bends in the direction of justice."
I attended the Columbia Foundation Dinner last night and wanted to give a "shout out" to Tom Coale who was recognized at the dinner for the work that he does in Howard County. In addition to being a blogger with HoCo Rising and a co-host of the podcast "I Can Fix That" Tom serves on the boards of the Columbia Association and VOICES for Children. And I know he has a day job too! Tom, the son of Skip Coale, is one of those second generation community activists that make this community such a wonderful place to live and raise a family.