The daughter of Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland disclosed Wednesday that she is a lesbian, an announcement gay advocates hope will boost their effort to keep the state's new same-sex marriage law on the books.
Stefany Hoyer Hemmer said her decision to come out of the closet publicly was driven in part by her support for Maryland's law, which Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, signed in March and which is likely to appear on the ballot in November.
"It was important for me to come out because of my dad's visibility both on a local level and on a national level," Hemmer told The Baltimore Sun. "The referendum is a big deal and I'm encouraged by the numbers" indicating support for the new law, she said.
Her announcement was first reported by the Washington Blade, a gay newspaper.
Same-sex marriage advocates praised the disclosure, which came a month after Hoyer, the second-highest-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, said that he now supports gay marriage.
In a statement released by advocates, he said he is "hopeful" Maryland's law will survive referendum.
"It's another example of people who are talking to their friends and are talking to their family and … they're seeing the importance of marriage equality to them," said Del. Luke Clippinger, a Baltimore Democrat who is openly gay.
Hemmer, 43, lives in Talbot County and works for the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. She has lived with a partner for the past 18 months. She said that friends and family, including her father, have known she is gay but that she never spoke publicly about her sexual orientation.
Hoyer's decision to support same-sex marriage followed a series of similar statements by top-ranking federal officials that ultimately prompted President Barack Obama to say last month that he also supports gay marriage.
The issue is far from settled in Maryland.
Opponents working to repeal the state's same-sex marriage law have submitted more than twice the number of signatures needed to put the law up for referendum in November. If 55,736 of those signatures are verified as legitimate, voters will get to decide whether to keep the law.
The law would not take effect until 2013. Six states and the District of Columbia now issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Hemmer said that it is not yet clear exactly what role she will play in the Maryland debate but that she intends to be active. She said she expects to attend events organized by advocates as the election nears.
Alex X. Mooney, chair of the Maryland Republican Party, said he doesn't believe Hemmer's announcement will have any impact on how Maryland voters consider the issue.
"The election will make it clear where Marylanders stand, that they're not for gay marriage," Mooney said. "To the extent that the pendulum swings one way, I think it swings back eventually."
A Gallup poll last month found that 54 percent of Americans consider gay and lesbian relations morally acceptable, an increase from just under four in 10 who responded that way in 2002. Half of the respondents in that poll felt that same-sex marriages should be legal.
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