By Liz Seaton
NCLR State Policy Director
Words cannot describe how I felt, sitting in the gallery at the Maryland State House as we won Governor Martin O’Malley’s Civil Marriage Equality Act by a vote of 72-67 on Friday. Several of the lawyers were cloistered for a couple of days in preparation for what we thought would be dozens of hostile amendments, but in the end there were only about a half-dozen, and all were defeated, leading to the vote for final passage.
We watched from the State House gallery as the delegates prepared to vote. Those who sat with me included lobbyist friends who have worked to end discrimination in Maryland for 15 years or more, the lead plaintiff couple Gita and Lisa from the Maryland state constitutional case a few years ago, current and past executive directors of Equality Maryland, couples still seeking the freedom to marry, ministers who want to marry same-sex couples in their own congregations with a state license to do so, and allies galore. Many delegates who spoke on the House eloquently voiced their support equality under the law for same-sex couples and our children. Others struggled to defend their votes against the measure – votes that I believe will be viewed as bigoted in the history books. Love, commitment and caring prevailed.
When the vote was won, we jumped to our feet and cheered, with hugs and kisses all around. Few had a dry eye.
Then we went downstairs to thank the delegates as they emerged from voting. The loudest cheers were for our seven openly gay and lesbian delegates – Environmental Matters Committee Chair Maggie McIntosh, Del. Luke Clippinger, Del. Bonnie Cullison, Del. Anne Kaiser, Del. Heather Mizeur, Del. Peter Murphy and Del. Mary Washington. Most were weeping with happiness. Then Speaker Michael Busch emerged to acclaim and spoke from the heart. Governor O’Malley swept down the marble stairs from his offices, and the crowd went wild. There was quite a celebration at a local tavern near the State House that night!
This is one step – but a key one – on the path to win marriage all out in Maryland. We need a Senate vote next – a strong one like last year – and that is scheduled for this week. Then there will be the formal signing by the Governor. Everyone expects our opponents to gather signatures in an attempt to put it on the ballot and take away the win before a single loving and committed couple can marry. If that happens, we will need all the help we can get here.
But for now, we celebrate and prepare to take it on, step by step.