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At first glance, there may seem to be a romantic subtext to scheduling the annual Equality Maryland Lobby Day — for the past several years it’s been held on the Monday before Valentine’s Day.
But that’s mainly a coincidence and a matter of availability, says Equality Maryland Executive Director Dan Furmansky.
But it’s appropriate nonetheless, given the high-profile case of 19 gay Marylanders who challenged a 1973 state statute that prohibits same-sex marriage. They presented their case to the Court of Appeals, Maryland’s highest court, and are awaiting a decision that could surface any day.
”At the forefront of our struggle is the freedom to love and build families with whomever we choose – and not at the expense of the condemnation and exclusion of the law,” Furmansky says. ”With a message at its core about love and family, Valentine’s Day is the perfect time for Equality Maryland to storm Annapolis with our brigade of citizen activists.”
Nearly 400 people have registered to take part on Lobby Day and hundreds more are expected to attend the events in Annapolis, from 5 to 8 p.m., on Feb. 12.
The day kicks off with a rally at 5 p.m., featuring Fred Mason, executive director of Metro Washington (DC) Council AFL-CIO, Maryland State Sen. Gwendolyn T. Britt (D), and musical performer Lea Gilmore.
”Sen. Britt will be speaking at the rally to announce that she will lead the way to [marriage equality],” says Sara Ryan, field organizer for Equality Maryland.
Activists are hoping other elected officials will join Britt. They will ask lawmakers to support civil marriage equality for same-sex couples in Maryland by signing a pledge that reads, ”I will not support the creation of a separate-and-unequal classification for same-sex unions under a different name. I will vote for civil marriage for same-sex couples.”
Ryan says this year’s Lobby Day could be the last opportunity for many to voice their concerns about equal marriage rights in the state.
”The reality is that there is a very good chance that the Court of Appeals will decide our marriage equality case before the next Lobby Day,” she says. ”This may be the last chance for many of our members to tell their legislators … that amending the constitution with discrimination is unacceptable.”
Ryan says the most effective way to persuade legislatures to support GLBT equality is by meeting them in person.
”We know that people who hear directly from LGBT people and their allies about … the discrimination they face, the protections that their families are without… they are far more likely to be supportive of LGBT people.”
It also familiarizes legislators with the communities they serve, she says, which is why she hopes members of the transgender community are present at Lobby Day as well.
”Because transgender people are often the most invisible members of the LGBT community, it’s especially important for our members to educate legislators about this issue,” Ryan says. ”Most of them have not met a transgender person before and don’t know about the issues. It’s equally important for our legislators to realize that supporting transgender equality is the right thing to do.”
Equality Maryland’s Lobby Day is Monday, Feb. 12, 5 to 8 p.m. at Lawyer’s Mall in Annapolis, Md., located directly in front of the State House, at 100 State Circle. For more information, visit www.equalitymaryland.org, or call 301-587-7500.