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By Liz Seaton
NCLR State Policy Director

I head over to Annapolis, MD today to testify in favor of marriage equality in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

A little history and perspective on Maryland, where I live, and our struggle here for the freedom marry. I first testified in favor of a marriage equality bill in the Maryland State House in 1999, when progressive state legislators introduced a proactive marriage bill to counter a proposed state DOMA bill. With losses on DOMAs in so many states, legislative allies wanted to give same-sex couples the opportunity to testify in favor of a positive measure, to give same-sex couples and their children a chance to talk about why the freedom to marry was important to them. Many did, and that was important, but there was not a significant groundswell of families stepping forward at that time because 12 years ago the marriage bill stood zero chance of passage. At the time, I headed up what is now Equality Maryland.

Priority one for us on the marriage front was to beat back DOMA, to hold Maryland open for a day when we could fight hard for marriage equality AND seriously hope to win it. I testified that one reason that no matter what one’s views were on marriage for same-sex couples, a DOMA bill to block recognition of out-of-state marriages simply was not needed because, unfortunately for our families, at that moment in time there was nowhere in our country – indeed the world – where same-sex couples were permitted to marry. What a different world we live in today! That testimony was an agonizing moment that I recall perfectly, but Maryland never did adopt a DOMA law, one of a handful around the country that refused to do so.

Since then, in this state we have achieved three victories specifically to protect same-sex couples—a limited domestic partner law, domestic partner benefits for state employees’ families, and a favorable marriage recognition opinion issued by Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler in 2010. Families have begun to receive the protections that they need and many people are working hard to see that opinion fully implemented in all aspects of the law.

If you follow marriage equality news, you know that 2011 was the first serious push for marriage equality in the legislature here. The bill passed the state senate but reportedly was a few votes short in the House of Delegates and was pulled—pointing to the need for a fresh, potent strategy and a more powerful champion. More people got in the game, using lessons from successful marriage equality efforts in Washington, D.C. and New York. A broad coalition was formed, Marylanders for Marriage Equality, of which NCLR is a member organization.

And a new champion was found, whose passion for this issue is clear.

Governor Martin O’Malley has stepped up to lead the fight for marriage equality.

The Civil Marriage Protection Act, Senate Bill 241, is an Administration Bill, meaning the Governor is the lead sponsor. With him co-sponsoring the measure are 20 State Senators, including Senator Jamie Raskin, who is not only my state senator but also was one of my law professors and Senator Rich Madaleno, a long-time dear friend who is also openly gay. Many of the Senate co-sponsors have a history in Maryland of championing various measures to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination and to beat back hateful and discriminatory measures.

The language of the bill is very simple. It takes what was Family Law 2-201 that read: Only a marriage between a man and a woman is valid in this state.” And changes it to read “Only a marriage between two individuals who are not otherwise prohibited from marrying is valid in this state.” The bill then lists the close relatives that an individual cannot marry. The bill also includes a religious exemption. Importantly, that exemption specifically does not apply where state or federal funds are received for a program or service being supplied by a religiously-affiliated organization.

Leading off the testimony tomorrow will be Governor O’Malley. I’m told that next up will be A.G. Doug Gansler and Joseph Bryce, Chief Legislative Officer to the governor. The testimony will be long and strong in favor of marriage equality, and by agreement of the lawyers’ cadre, I’ll be batting later on in the line-up as a strategic matter.

My testimony will include several lawyerly points about equality under the law, the protections available through marriage, the fact that many states and countries permit same-sex couples to marry. It will also include this:

Marriage Is About Family, My Dad Knew That

I am a Maryland resident who has lived in this state for 22 years, and I share a home in with my spouse, Pat, and our 11 year old daughter Ryan. Pat and I married in Ontario, Canada in 2003 when we planned to be there on vacation with my parents. I am extremely glad we did, because we lost my Dad three years ago. If we had waited to marry in Maryland, he would have missed it. He wanted to see his beloved granddaughter Ryan become the child of married parents, like he and my Mom. He was extremely proud of our family, and he loved Pat and Ryan very much. Initially, my Dad was trying to figure out if we had kids if that made him a grandfather (or not), because we were not able to marry. He was a lifelong Republican and to him, marriage meant family. The denial of freedom to marry meant something too, a brand of inferiority on some families. He understood that perfectly, and what it meant when Pat and I could final marry two decades after we began living together. Hanging up in our home is the collage my Dad made and framed from pictures he took of us on our wedding day. And somewhere in our pile of family pictures are the ones Pat took of him to send to me when she took her turn and flew to Wisconsin to sleep on a cot in his hospital room for a week in the year he lay dying. Love, commitment, mutual responsibility between generations, a lifetime of caring. Family. For so many, that is what SB 241 is all about.

I will talk about the fact that I know several lesbian and gay couples who have refused to marry elsewhere, because they are determined to marry in their home state of Maryland. I have not quite finished writing my testimony – and I also will need to prepare to counter the ridiculous things our opponents are likely to say – but I will likely close with something like this:

Make a difference in the lives of Maryland families, same-sex couples and their children, and put Maryland on right side of history. Vote in favor of Senate Bill 241 and urge your colleagues in the House of Delegates to do the same.

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