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Disappointment for Maryland UUs battling for equal marriage rights

Fearing defeat in the House, supporters decide to wait until next year.
By Donald E. Skinner

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Betty McGarvie Crowley (Courtesy of UULM-MD)

Betty McGarvie Crowley (left), co-chair of the UU Legislative Ministry of Maryland, holds a "Standing on the Side of Love" sign during a rally in front of the Maryland State House. (Courtesy of UULM-MD)

Wedding bells for same-sex couples will have to wait until next year in Maryland. Supporters of same-sex marriage who have been working for more than six years to make it legal in Maryland almost realized that dream this month, but in the end they were a few votes short.

The Civil Marriage Protection Act passed the Maryland Senate 25 to 21 on February 24. Then on Friday, March 11 final debate was held in the House, where the vote was anticipated to be close. In the end, sponsors decided to send the bill back to committee rather than risk it being voted down.

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley had said he would sign the bill if it passed. That would have made Maryland the sixth state plus the District of Columbia to approve same-sex marriage. If it had been voted down it could not be brought up again for four years.

Unitarian Universalists who have been among the strongest supporters of marriage equality in Maryland were disappointed. “It was clear that the vote in the House would fail by one or two votes,” said Betty McGarvie Crowley, co-chair of the UU Legislative Ministry of Maryland, which marshaled support for the bill. “But the great thing is we have made so much progress to be that close.”

She added, “There are a lot of lessons we have learned in our work, and we plan to build on them for a victory next year.”

The Rev. Lisa Ward, minister of the UU Fellowship of Harford County, in Churchville, Maryland, heads up UULM-MD’s Marriage Equality Task Force. “The political maneuvering around LGBT civil rights feels like cruelty right now, though I know it is about fear and lack of recognition,” she said.

“What UULM-MD can do now is help expand the interfaith coalition of voices for marriage equality and increase the numbers of constituents of faith willing to contact their legislators. I believe this setback will only strengthen the resolve to be more visible and vocal. Being as close as we are to marriage equality in Maryland means that it is on its way. I do believe the tide continues to turn in our favor, slower than we might want, but inevitable.”

Ward said she was encouraged this year because, “in recent years, when we testified the questions became more and more nuanced, which meant LGBT legitimacy was being better understood.”

The Rev. John T. Crestwell Jr., associate minister at the UU Church of Annapolis and director of outreach for UULM-MD, concurred. “To see where we were on this issue in 2006, with the hatred and the anger from the other side and then to see us go in succeeding years to dominating the testimony, you knew something was happening.”

Crestwell said the 2010 election added a number of supporters of same-sex marriage. “Certainly our advocacy work made a huge difference, but the shift in that election was the reason we thought the bill would go through this year.”

Maryland, with the majority of its population around Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, is considered one of the nation’s most politically liberal states, he noted.

UU congregations responded in force to the marriage campaign this year, Crestwell said. “In every rally, every call to action, we outnumbered any other religious group.” Crestwell and Ward both testified, as did Dan Furmansky, manager of the UUA’s Standing on the Side of Love campaign. The Rev. Dr. Fred Muir, parish minister at the UU Church of Annapolis, Bill Harris, board member of UULM-MD, and other UUs testified as well.

Furmansky* worked full time for the marriage campaign for four weeks, right up to the final vote. “I planned to stay a week and I stayed four,” he said. “This issue is very important to me.” Furmansky was executive director of Equality Maryland from 2003 to 2008. “I was there when the first marriage bill was put in several years ago. This whole thing is very close to me.”

Furmansky lined up people to testify, helped make videos, organized and spoke at rallies, and helped write talking points and speeches. One video, with Brendon Ayanbadejo, a linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens, garnered more than 17,000 YouTube views, he said. One with Army Col. James Madsen, who spoke about his gay son, had more than 5,000 views.

Crowley credited Furmansky with providing a final boost that got the campaign closer than it’s ever been to its goal. She said, “We absolutely would not have gotten as far as we did without Dan. He had the experience, the contacts, and the enthusiasm that we needed in our final weeks. We are so grateful to him and to the UUA for granting him the freedom to work with us. He enhanced our ability to be effective advocates.”

If the bill had passed this month that would not have been the end of the process. Opponents had already been organizing to call a state-wide referendum for November 2012, which would have been costly and time-consuming for both sides.

One of the sponsors of the marriage equality bill was Senator Rich Madaleno, the only openly gay senator in Maryland. He is also a member of Cedar Lane UU Church in Bethesda. He was instrumental in the Senate’s passage of the measure.

In testimony to the Senate February 24, just before the vote was taken by that body, Madaleno noted that he and his partner were married in church 10 years ago, “but to the law he remains a legal stranger to me.”

He added, “Without full and equal civil marriage, Maryland makes sure that thousands of its families never forget that they are outsiders. That they are not quite equal. . . . Every generation of Americans have held out their hand to someone who had been left out of this promise. Held out their hand and brought them into our civil society saying, you are not the other, you are us. That is what this moment is about today. It’s about embracing all the families of our state.”

The Maryland House is also considering a bill this year which would prohibit employment and housing discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation. The bill, HB 235, was debated for the first time March 9. Ward and Delfin Bautista, the UUA’s LGBT Ministries Program Coordinator, both testified in support of it.

"There is still work to do this year on this bill,” said Crowley. “The Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination Act provides critical protections in employment and housing on the basis of gender identity and expression. All hardworking people in our state, including transgender people, should have a chance to earn a living and provide for themselves and their families. We must pass HB 235 to ensure that no one has to live in fear that they will be fired for reasons unrelated to their ability to do the job. Equality Maryland is committed to advancing this bill this year and to continuing to work to end the exclusion of loving and committed gay and lesbian couples from marriage."

Update 3.14.11: This paragraph and the two that follow it were added after this story was first published. Click here to return to the story. Correction 3.16.11: The caption for the photograph accompanying this story misidentified one of the people shown and misattributed the photo, which was in fact provided by the UU Legislative Ministry of Maryland. The caption has been corrected.

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