Sun Investigates

Md. lawmakers change tune on gay marriage

Reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act — and more recent efforts to amend the Constitution to ban same-sex marriage — underscores just how dramatically views on the divisive issue have changed in 17 years.

When Congress voted by a wide margin in 1996 to pass the measure prohibiting the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage, all of Maryland's lawmakers — four Republicans and six Democrats — supported the proposal, which President Bill Clinton then signed into law.


But the four members who still serve today cheered the act's downfall. A look at their statements from then and now illustrate how much views have changed.

"What this bill does is really quite simple," Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski said on the Senate floor before she voted along with 31 of her Democratic colleagues in support of the Defense of Marriage Act. "It puts in the federal law books what has always been the definition of a marriage: the legal union between one man and one woman."


But Mikulski's position later changed, and her opposition to DOMA became unequivocal. In a statement following the high court's decision last month, Mikulski said the justices had "affirmed that all Americans, regardless of sexual orientation, are entitled to equal protection under the law. … I am proud to see the day that marriage equality becomes the law of the land."

Sen. Ben Cardin, while serving in the House in 1996, did not speak on the floor when the measure came up for a vote in that chamber. But an aide was quoted in The Baltimore Sun as saying that the Democrat "has a traditional view of marriage. … It's between a man and a woman."

After the recent court ruling, Cardin said: "Loving families across our great nation have been made whole today." The court, he said, "upheld the core principle that all persons must be treated equally under the law."

In the years after DOMA was enacted, Cardin and Mikulski both voted against a series of efforts to restrict gay rights. And both later co-sponsored legislation to repeal the act.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat who was sworn in only months before the DOMA vote, and Rep. Steny Hoyer, a Southern Maryland Democrat, did not comment publicly on the legislation at the time. Hoyer, whose daughter is gay, evolved into a supporter of same-sex marriage. And Cummings praised the recent Supreme Court ruling in a statement.

The shift follows a change in how the public perceives the issue. Fifty-three percent of Americans believe marriages between same-sex couples should be recognized by the law, up from 48 percent in 2011 and 27 percent in 1996, according to a recent Gallup poll.

That explains why a constitutional amendment proposed last week to ban gay marriage is unlikely to get much traction, even in the Republican-led House of Representatives. The legislation, crafted by a Kansas Republican, is co-sponsored by Republican Rep. Andy Harris of Baltimore County.

Baltimore Sun researcher Paul McCardell contributed to this article.