Howard County and civic equality in the 21st century, part 3

4 minute read

In my previous posts (part 1 and part 2) I introduced the topic of same-sex marriage as a civil right, discussed how many gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) people might actually live in Howard County and how many of them might be living as same-sex couples, and concluded that in this particular context Howard County seemed to have no special claim to being more diverse than the rest of the nation or the rest of the state. In fact, Howard County and Maryland both appear to be below average in terms of the LGBT population and the number of same-sex couples.

Why is this, and why isn’t Maryland, supposedly one of the most reliably liberal and Democratic of the blue states, further down the road toward granting same-sex couples full equality when it comes to civil marriage?

I’m not going to try to answer the first question, as anything I have to say would be pure speculation. For example, does it have anything to do with the proximity of DC as an alternative place to live, the structure of Maryland’s economy (e.g., the relative mix of professions), or Maryland’s higher proportion of Federal workers, military personnel, or people with clearances? I have absolutely no idea, and would welcome informed opinions on the subject.

As to the second question, the most prominent theory, advanced by Aaron Davis in a Washington Post article, is that Maryland is more socially conservative than its record of voting for Democrats would indicate, and that that social conservatism is then magnified by a legislature dominated by long-time career politicians not eager to rock the boat.

In general I’d conclude that Maryland does lead Virginia, but not necessarily by as much as we might think. To go back to the comparison of same-sex marriage to interracial marriage, it’s worth noting that Maryland and Virginia were the two original states to enact anti-miscegenation laws, and both kept them in place for almost three centuries. The only reason Maryland escaped having its law struck down by Loving v. Virginia was because Maryland legislators had seen the writing on the wall and repealed it a few months earlier.

Steve Charing recently asked Will our wedding bells ever ring in Maryland? That’s a question that doesn’t yet have a good answer; however I’m cautiously optimistic. Although Maryland may not be as far along as we might think in the road to acceptance of same-sex marriage, it may be far enough. Most notably, supporters of same-sex marriage now have a plurality with respect to opponents (46% to 44%, with 10% on the fence).

While this is not enough support to drive legislative approval of same-sex marriage (or even civil unions), it may well be enough to prevent roll-back of actions like Attorney General Doug Gansler’s opinion in favor of recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions. In fact, the same poll referenced above showed a clear 55% majority in favor of Gansler’s action, and clearly Gansler’s action proved to be no impediment whatsoever to his re-election this fall. Given that Maryland has at least somewhat of a head start on other states in this regard, and presuming that having Maryland-recognized same-sex married couples in our midst leads to increased familiarity and acceptance on the part of Maryland voters, it may be that support for home-grown same-sex marriage may reach a tipping point sooner rather than later.

If so, will Howard County just ride the wave, or is there anyone out there who’ll play a Jim Rouse-like role in terms of getting out in front on the issue and actively working to make Howard County a preferred destination for same-sex married couples? As far as our local politicians are concerned, I haven’t had time to completely go through HoCo Rising’s exhaustive list of candidates’ websites looking for their positions on the matter. However I’ll note two things:

First, although some local Democrats picked up endorsements from Equality Maryland (Elizabeth Bobo, Edward Kasemeyer, and Frank Turner) I couldn’t find any explicit statements in support of same-sex marriage, civil unions, or other LGBT issues on their web sites. However Liz Bobo’s site does have a reference to human rights, which in this context is presumably the classic euphemism for the issue that dare not speak its name.

On the Republican side, Alan Kittleman apparently believes that the Maryland Republican party should focus on the economy and go easy on the social issues. Given the position of the national party and the feelings of Maryland Republicans (69% of whom oppose same-sex marriage), this almost makes Kittleman a flaming social liberal. Meanwhile I can’t tell what Gail Bates or Warren Miller think, since on the Bates-Miller campaign web site the Issues link doesn’t work. (Make of that what you will.)

Some of this reticence is understandable; we’re talking about an issue that is controversial and affects only a small number of people, in a time when people are more concerned about the economy and other larger issues. And as I noted above, with interracial marriage the main players in the legal sphere were the courts, with private entrepreneurs like Jim Rouse playing a positive parallel role in the social and economic spheres.

Will the courts also help bring same-sex marriage to Maryland, with the legislature finally bowing to the inevitable? Whether and when that will happen remains unknown. However if it would be a nice instance of historical congruence if full marriage equality came to Maryland by 2017, so that some marriages could be celebrated in Howard County that June, along with the 50th anniversary of Loving v. Virginia and the 50th birthday of Columbia.