A State Divided
Maryland’s battle for marriage equality has been the most recent in the United States. As the first state below the Mason-Dixon Line to make gay marriage legal, the debate in this small state was quite intense. A deeply divided group of lawmakers and constituents means the recent success for the gay rights and marriage equality movement may only be temporary depending on how persistent the measure’s opponents are. Challenging the new law is certainly possible, but not without a huge amount of time and effort on the part of those seeking to repeal it.
The results of the state Senate vote on the law were 25-22. The only Republican to vote in favor of the bill was Senator Allan Kittleman who said “you don’t worry about politics when you’re dealing with the civil rights issue of your generation.” Opponents, however, have promised to bring the measure to referendum in November meaning they will need to gather at least 55,726 valid signatures of Maryland voters in order to so. This process will almost certainly guarantee more heated battles before the issue is settled. Furthermore, anti-gay marriage proponents would have to submit one-third the signatures by May 31, 2012 and the remaining two-thirds by June 30 (of the same year) in order to get the issue on the November ballot. Ministers of several African American churches in Prince George’s County along with conservative and Catholic organizations are among those who are dead set on repealing the measure.
Maryland joins the ranks of states granting gay marriage equality as the eighth in the country. Much of the controversy stems from conservative constituent communities. Maryland is the state with the highest percentage of black voters outside of the Deep South; the percentage of black voters in this small state is nearly twice that of the other states that have legalized same-sex marriage. As Marion, a Washington, D.C. councilman stated, the African American community (generally) does not support gay marriage. The potentially apprehensive African American community of Maryland against the close vote in the Senate mean the outcome may be unpredictable.
For many years Governor O’Malley was publicly supportive of civil unions for same-sex couples but was opposed to gay marriage. This year, he personally took on the cause and said his views had grown, changed and that he very much looked forward to signing the bill.
Anti-gay marriage groups are organizing themselves to challenge the state Senate’s decision but it the challenge fails, the marriage law will take effect on January 1 of 2013. This year’s version of the bill includes writing that permits churches and all other religious institutions to opt of participating in or contributing to same-sex marriages. Groups or nonprofit organizations sponsored by religious groups are exempt from mandatory service related to gay marriages if it violates religious beliefs unless said group receives funding from the federal government, in which case, it cannot turn away same-sex couples. This last specification is an interesting caveat that could continue to feed the fire of anti-same sex marriage religious groups even if the law remains in place and takes effect.
Maryland is the eighth state to legalize same-sex marriage.
- Can gay couples marry in Maryland? Yes.
- Can religious groups deny services for gay marriage ceremonies? Yes, unless they receive federal funding.