Keri Renault

O'Malley, Favorable Opinion May Pave Way for Civil Marriage

Filed By Keri Renault | July 10, 2009 9:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality, Politics, Politics

Legislation in support of same-sex marriage in Maryland has hit political roadblocks time and again. Apathetic sub-committees have proven a common dead-end.

The road ahead, however, may be clearing. In June, Maryland State Senator Rich Madaleno (D-Montgomery County), sponsor of the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act, requested a formal opinion from the Attorney General of Maryland on the constitutionality of recognizing out-of-state, same-sex marriage.

Attorney General Doug Gansler, who has been sympathetic toward the LGBT community's drive toward marriage equality, is anticipated to release a written opinion later this summer after concluding the discovery phase of his investigation.

The encouraging news continued earlier this week with inspiring words from Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley.

Is it just my heavy duty shock absorbers, or is the road beginning to feel a bit less bumpy?

During a local radio interview, the governor expressed support for recognizing out-of-state, same sex marriages in Maryland.

I think that it's very difficult to deny equal rights to people when it comes to rights that are dispersed by government rather than a faith or a church. I think if a person has these rights under another state than I think we are (Maryland) sore pressed to deny those rights. So yes, I think we probably should respect those rights.

Right on for separation of Church and State.

Considering the endorsement comes from Maryland's top elected official, it could pave the way to remove political obstacles from future passage of the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act, legislation that's hit more than its share of unexpected pot holes.

Although the Governor hasn't advocated for the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act, he has cleared a few other important LGBT roads in 2009.

O'Malley signed into law a bill that eliminates the inheritance tax on jointly owned primary residences for domestic partners. It took effect July 1st. Health and retirement benefits for same-sex partners of state employees are also now in the budget. Hopefully, O'Malley's favorable public position recognizing out-of-state, same sex marriages will add momentum to the oft proposed Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act.

A synopsis of the proposed act reads:

Establishing that a marriage between two individuals who are not otherwise prohibited from marrying is valid in the State; prohibiting an official of a religious institution or body authorized to solemnize marriages from being required to solemnize any marriage in violation of the constitutional right to free exercise of religion.

Kevin Walling, Director of Development for Equality Maryland said the governor's pro-LGBT statement "puts a face" on gay marriage, giving the slow going movement a huge chug-a-lug in the right direction. The more immediate impact of state recognition could be to open the flood gates for gay and lesbian Maryland couples, bringing marital equality within their reach by crossing state lines.

The high octane boost of O'Malley's endorsement and the turbo-charged ignition of a favorable opinion from Attorney General Doug Gansler could propel gay Maryland couples to New England and beyond.

Right now think Connecticut - or Massachusetts, especially since its repeal of Bill 1913. Out-of-state, same-sex Marylanders can legally marry in these states.

The implications are huge: marriage license in hand, same-sex Maryland couples will return home to reap the benefits of a legally recognized marriage. Let the revolving door-spin begin.

Of equal if not greater importance down the road, unified support from the Governor and the State AG could be the green light needed for reluctant moderate and conservative democratic legislators to move forward with the passage of civil marriage.

There's good reason to believe Attorney General Gansler will opine favorably for same-sex marriage recognition. He's a Democrat and a proponent of marriage equality. There's state precedent that would support a positive opinion by the Attorney General.

According to Walling, "Maryland recognizes many different types of marriages in terms of a legal perspective - many different kinds of marriages that the state itself would not issue or recognize within the state."

On the flip side, favorable conditions can change in a moment's notice, especially with strident political conservatives in Maryland threatening to hog the entire road of human rights. Earlier in June, when the Attorney General was petitioned for an opinion recognizing out-of-state, same-sex marriages, Republican Delegate Don Dwyer of District 31 in Anne Arundel county was reported to have sounded the conservative alarm.

Dwyer, an ultra-conservative constitutionalist, is a hard-liner of "marriage between a man and a woman." Not surprisingly, he promised to take the Attorney General to task if his forthcoming opinion "circumvents the law." I read that Dwyer is proposing "DOMA-like" legislation, in an attempt to strip the provision recognizing out-of-state, same-sex marriages from the Attorney General's opinion.

Walling offered a compelling counter-perspective:

We believe we have a lot of good momentum in terms of jurisprudence behind the idea that the state of Maryland can in fact - and should be compelled to - recognize these same-sex, out-of state marriages (that have been legalized) in Iowa, Connecticut and Massachusetts, or the other states like Maine and Vermont that are coming down the pike.

Positive momentum could deliver Maryland same-sex couples full civil marriage rights equality before long. Walling remarked that the public endorsement of Governor O'Malley and an affirmative opinion from Attorney General Gansler represent much more than a quick fix and immediate aid for LGBT couples.

"It's an interim step before we pass a full civil marriage equality bill through the legislature", Walling concluded.

One fact is irrefutable. Same-sex marriage is building an undeniable nationwide "Big Mo." Not only in states that have or will shortly legalize it, but in places that now recognize gay marriage - like New York, Washington, D.C., and hopefully later this summer - Maryland.

Is civil marriage finally ready to travel all the way down the Maryland turnpike to victory in Annapolis?

The answer may rest with a single opinion that looms just around the corner.

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