Marriage in the Legislature: Maggie on Maryland

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

Members of the Maryland house of delegates are switching sides as black churches, among others, voice their opposition to gay marriage in Maryland. Maggie Gallagher, chairman of the National Organization of Marriage, explains the scene there:

Kathryn Jean Lopez: What the heck is going on in Maryland?

Maggie Gallagher: A popular insurrection! It’s been a fascinating, rollercoaster week in the marriage fight.

The house of delegates there was supposed to pass a gay-marriage bill easily. “Done deal,” they said. Then the black pastors and the Catholic Church got to work, and the result has been a huge public outpouring that is making politicians have second thoughts.

Originally they were going to postpone the vote until April, to shorten the time we have to collect signatures for a referendum. But them one of the co-sponsors, a black Democrat named Melvin Stukes, suddenly jumped ship — said he was only for civil unions, not same-sex marriage. Leadership realized they had to push it through quickly or they would continue to lose support.

So suddenly they announced the vote would be Tuesday in the Judiciary Committee. Then at least two black Democrats from the Baltimore area who were counted as yes votes failed to show up. The establishment went into attack mode — the gay press called their actions “shameful” and a Baltimore Sun editor said the move brought “disrepute” to the house.

One of those “no-shows,” Del. Jill Carter, says she will vote yes but that they are still two votes short (by her count) of passing the bill. She also accused the house leadership of lying about her. The other delegate, Tiffany Alston, says she now supports civil unions for all; it’s unclear how she will vote if that fails. And that’s just the Judiciary Committee.

Meanwhile, another co-sponsor of the bill, Sam Arora of Silver Springs, appears to be jumping ship too. He was one of two Indian-American Democrats elected last November, he’s a former intern of Hillary Clinton’s, and he got the endorsement of Equality Maryland. Can you imagine how much public pressure objecting to gay marriage there must be if he’s having second thoughts?

Lopez: Didn’t I read just last Friday how even Catholics were going to defy their Church and make gay marriage happen in Maryland?

Gallagher: The lack of press coverage of this popular rebellion is really striking. I mean, when the question was passing the bill on the senate side, WABC news, which carries Rush and Sean and all our guys, made a lot of the fact that one senator switched sides and called all of us who testified against the bill bigots. It was their top news story. (Without any reaction from those of us he had maligned, I might add.)

When gay marriage gets in trouble, it’s invisible — even in the conservative press, with a few exceptions.

I talked with a public-radio affiliate in the Philly area this week on DOMA. The host was saying, “Well, isn’t it true that GOP voters don’t care about this issue any more?” I said, “If you want to know what is happening out there on the ground, you can’t read the New York Times!” Read the gay press, or the National Organization for Marriage’s blog

Of course, Maryland is a more striking new story because it’s not just the GOP base, it’s a big chunk of the core Democratic base that is now raising its voice against gay marriage.#more#

Lopez: And Lincoln Chafee and an openly gay Rhode Island speaker of the house can’t deliver either, right?

Gallagher: We saw the same story in Rhode Island. They were supposed to push it quickly through the house and then have a tough fight in the senate. Instead the speaker pulled the bill suddenly, because the votes weren’t there to get it out of committee. I’m not sure how much arm-twisting is going on up there. I know that Rhode Island Democrats are hearing from their bishops and their fellow parishioners, and having serious second thoughts about gay marriage.

Lincoln Chafee is a former Republican turned independent who won in a three-way race with just 36 percent of the vote. He’s running around telling Democratic legislators that gay marriage is a key part of his economic recovery program. (I kid you not!) I think a lot of Democrats are wondering if he’s leading them off a cliff.

Lopez: What’s the big-picture story here? That nothing’s inevitable, especially not gay marriage? Is that too simplistic?

Gallagher: My favorite political consultant likes to say two things I’ve taken to heart. First, “It’s not a done deal. If it were a done deal, it would be done already.” Second, “Before they claim their ultimate victory, shouldn’t they win their first victory?”

We’ve never lost in any state in a vote of the people. Culture war is like any other war: It ends when they break your will to fight. Don’t let them.

Here’s my other favorite quote, from Vaclav Havel, “In the end, truth and love will prevail over lies and hate.” I believe that too.

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