By Liz Seaton
NCLR State Policy Director
Today I am back in Annapolis for the House of Delegates floor debate over the marriage equality bill in Maryland. A joint committee passed it two days ago, and now it’s on the floor. I’m there to help our champion legislators evaluate and deal with proposed amendments to the bill. The Senate passed a marriage equality bill last year, so the House is where we expect the biggest challenge. The papers here have been reporting that the vote is close, which matches what I am being told by Annapolis insiders.
Last Friday, testimony on the bill in the joint session of the Judiciary and Government Oversight Committees lasted for 11 hours. Some opponents of the bill suggested civil unions as an alternative to marriage. But none did so in a way that indicated that they cared about same-sex couples and their families in any real way, so that suggestion went nowhere. Sodom and Gomorrah were not even mentioned until about the fifth hour. I am pleased to report that we – the Marylanders for Marriage Equality Coalition and all those who came to testify at our request – outlasted the bigots by a solid hour. By the end, the chair called a dozen opponents one by one to come forward, but only had two had the fortitude to stay until 11 p.m. Those of us who stayed to be “the closers” and who testified in the last hour leading up to midnight included me, an attorney from the Family Equality Council, the executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, the executive director of Equality Maryland, a few ministers, a mom who testified about being a biracial mom with a lesbian daughter, and, perhaps most compellingly, several lesbian and gay men talking about loving and wanting to marry their partners in Maryland. Several staff from the Human Rights Campaign were there working away until the final minutes, too.
To cap off the day, Governor O’Malley appeared near midnight to thank those who had stayed to testify. His Chief Legislative Officer, Joe Bryce, stayed through the entire hearing. Later that night, as I sat at the bar of a local hotel in Annapolis withanother advocate, a straight couple bought us a second round of drinks, telling us to keep up the good work until the bill is won. That was super nice—and a sign of the growing public support for basic equality in Maryland.
That is my update today as we’re at the House floor. Fingers crossed!