Maryland's Marriage Push

Activist optimistic about bill's passage and combating opposition that may follow

The prize is the same, but the playing field has improved for activists seeking marriage equality in Maryland over the past three years.

It was in September of 2007 when the Maryland Court of Appeals announced its decision to uphold a 1973 state law defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman by a 4-3 ruling. The 19 plaintiffs challenging that law as discriminatory with the help of Equality Maryland, the state’s equal rights organization, remain active in the fight for marriage equality. And according to Morgan Meneses-Sheets, executive director of Equality Maryland, 2011 has the potential to be the year when it happens.

Maryland’s 90-day legislative session begins Jan. 12, 2011.

”Right now our family-law statute defines marriage as being between a man and a woman and so what we’re doing is taking out that gender requirement,” she says of the marriage-equality bill sponsored by Del. Ben Barnes (D-Anne Arundel and Prince George’s Counties) in the House and Sen. Richard Madaleno (D-Montgomery County) in the Senate.

”Our bill also does include religious freedom language,” she adds. ”It confirms, or affirms, that no church has to perform a marriage if they choose not to.”

Meneses-Sheets says the organization is working with Freedom to Marry, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the Human Rights Campaign and Gay & Lesbian Advocats & Defenders to help pass the bill and do the work that’s necessary once it has been passed.

”As soon as the bill is passed, [our opposition] will have a period of which they can collect signatures in order to try to get it to the ballot,” she says.

”If they get enough signatures, then it goes to the ballot in November of 2012, the next presidential election…. We will be working on a decline-to-sign [campaign], basically educating people about the impact of preventing people from getting married, and also the ‘hearts and minds’ messages to try to get them to refuse to sign the petition. We will also be doing work to verify signatures.”

Evan Wolfson of Freedom to Marry says Maryland is one of the organization’s priority states in 2011.

”We absolutely believe it’s winnable,” he says.

”We have to work steadily day by day to, first of all, win it in the Legislature and, secondarily, to protect it at the ballot. One way to make that happen is persuade as many people in Maryland to move in support of the freedom to marry.”

For more information about Equality Maryland, visit equalitymaryland.org.

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