Mixed support, not just party lines, passed same-sex marriage

When House Bill 438, otherwise known as the Civil Marriage Protection Act, passed narrowly by the Maryland House of Delegates and State Senate, it was a huge accomplishment for supporters of same-sex marriage.

The House of Delegates passed the bill by a 72-67 vote in February, and the Senate approved the bill by a 25-22 vote. Two GOP members of the House of Delegates voted for the legislation, and one in the Senate.

Groups like the Maryland Marriage Alliance, which is for traditional marriage, and Marylanders for Equality, which supports same-sex marriage, formed in 2011 when they caught wind that the same-sex marriage legislation was going to be pushed for. Sen. Allan Kittleman, R-District 9, said until the 2010 election when Republicans lost two seats in the Senate, there were never enough votes to prohibit same-sex marriage permanently in Maryland, or legalize same-sex marriage.

Kittleman began looking for Republican support in 2011 with a bill to legalize civil unions regardless of sexuality, in order to separate legal unions and religious marriage.

"Republicans, not all but some, were upset with me because they thought it was going too far. Democrats thought I was trying to stop their bill [for same-sex marriage]," Kittleman said.

By February, Kittleman realized he had zero support in the Senate for his bill, which he felt was a compromise at the time, he said. Instead, he decided to back the same-sex marriage bill, which he said should have been unsurprising, considering he voted for domestic partnerships in 2008.

Protections for domestic partnerships include hospital visitation and consent for funeral arrangements and other joint health-care decisions. It also allows a domestic partner's name to be added or removed from a deed, according to the law.

Derek McCoy, the executive director of the Maryland Marriage Alliance, said because there are already domestic partnerships, any legal benefit a man and woman share in marriage could be easily fixed in a legally binding agreement from an attorney.

"Maryland has passed very aggressive domestic partnership laws already. There is very little difference between a registered married heterosexual couple or someone who has a domestic partnership, so to speak," McCoy said.

If the referendum passes, additional benefits for same-sex couples will be primarily for taxes, education, estates and trusts, insurance, labor and employment, pensions, and childcare and child rearing.

Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler declared same-sex marriages in other states are considered valid in Maryland in 2010. Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York and Washington, D.C., have all legalized same-sex marriage.

Maryland added health benefits to state employees, retirees and their children who are in same-sex domestic partnerships in 2009. The State Retirement Agency also administers spousal benefits to same-sex spouses of a lawfully recognized marriage in another state if they choose to retire in Maryland.

Maryland has 2.1 million households, and estimates there are about 10,600 same-sex homes, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

President Barack Obama announced his support of same-sex marriage in May.

Kittleman said most young Republicans he meets are in favor of same-sex marriage, and if the Republican Party continues to alienate same-sex couples, younger generations will not become Republicans.

"It's a generational thing. I think 15 years from now, we'll look back on this and say 'Gosh I can't believe we even fought them,'" Kittleman said.

Some Republicans contacted Kittleman after he announced his support for the bill to say they too, believe in same-sex marriage, he said. While others questioned whether he would switch parties, he said supporting civil rights is a Republican principle.

"I believe strongly that what I'm doing is a very Republican point. I believe that the Republican Party stands for freedom both economically and personally," Kittleman said.

The Maryland Marriage Alliance has support from a spectrum of parties and socio-economic conditions, McCoy said, making it more than just a conservative issue.

For a referendum on a state law, the number of signatures must equal 3 percent of votes cast in the previous election for governor. Just 55,736 signatures were needed to add question six to the ballot, McCoy said. Within a few weeks there were enough signatures, but grassroots campaigns continued collecting signatures because people wanted to be a part of the process.

Only 162,000 signatures for the petition for the referendum were turned into the Board of Elections, said McCoy, but there were more than 200,000 signatures.

"We got over 90 percent of our signatures collected on the street, about 10 percent were collected online," McCoy said.

Kevin Nix, the spokesman for Marylanders for Marriage Equality, said right now, there is momentum for same-sex marriage, but the election is still pretty far off. Clergies in Maryland have come out in support of same-sex marriage in recent weeks, including an 8,000-member church in Prince George's County.

"There are a couple of clergy that are voting for question six as a public policy matter who will not perform same-sex weddings in their church," Nix said. "Some do, but most wont. And that's fine. I see it as a fairness and equality issue under the law."

If passed, the law would be the first time same-sex marriage will win by a referendum, or by "popular vote," Nix said.

Previous referendums, such as Proposition 8 in California, phrased the question so that a vote on the ballot in the affirmative would reject same-sex marriage. Maryland is different; to vote for same-sex marriage one would vote "for the referred law," and to strike down same-sex marriage, one votes "against the referred law."

Maine, Minnesota and Washington will all have referendums on same-sex marriage this November. Nix said if same-sex marriage passes in Maryland, it will be the first official state south of the Mason Dixon line with marriage equality.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun