More on same-sex marriage and civic equality

5 minute read

Two recent posts by HoCo Rising and Steve Charing prompted me to jot down a few thoughts to complement my previous posts on same-sex marriage and civic equality in the context of Howard County and Maryland. So without further ado, some random comments:

On terminology: In the title of my posts I used the term civic equality, not marriage equality. I did some thinking about this, and in the end wanted to emphasize two things: First, the issues here extend beyond the question of marriage to other aspects of personal and family life in which the government is involved. For example, people should be able to apply to adopt a child or act as foster parents, and be considered on a equal basis with others regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Hence I didn’t want to put the focus solely on marriage. Second, this is about equality under the law, i.e., our relationship to government as citizens; it’s not about religious strictures or private beliefs. It’s about civil marriage as established by the state, not about marriage as a religious ceremony and sacrament. Hence the emphasis on civic equality.

On politicians’ positions on marriage equality: HoCo Rising promises, Expect a run down of the candidates who oppose civic equality in the coming months … I thought about doing a follow-up post myself on the various candidates’ positions (both pro and anti), but after doing some initial research gave it up as too much work—so I’d be glad to see HoCo Rising take up the mantle. However I did find out a few things:

First, the Stonewall Democrats of Central Maryland have done a first round of endorsements of candidates they consider supportive of marriage equality and other LGBT-related issues. The situation on the other side of the aisle is illustrated by the fact that the Maryland chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans doesn’t have a working web site and apparently hasn’t had one since 2007 or thereabouts.

Second, as HoCo Rising noted, Martin O’Malley was originally opposed to marriage equality and in favor of the separate but equal approach of offering civil unions (a position that didn’t win him any friends). While not actively endorsing marriage equality (as urged by Steve Charing), acording to a WBAL-TV story O’Malley now says he would sign a marriage equality bill if passed by the legislature. Of course, the probability of any marriage equality bill getting out committee, much less being passed, is pretty slim, but definitely a move forward by O’Malley.

Third, Bob Ehrlich is (still) opposed to same-sex marriage, and has a somewhat weasel-worded position on civil unions: According to the same story referenced above, Ehrlich said he supports rights associated with civil unions, and that he recognizes the difference between civil unions and marriage. I’m not sure exactly what the second part of this means, except possibly that Ehrlich is giving himself some wiggle room to avoid a veto in case the legislature were to pass a civil unions bill. (I kept my promise, really I did: I said I would veto same-sex marriage, but this is different!) The first part is also obscure, but might mean that Ehrlich is willing to support something beyond just the right not to be kicked out of the hospital room where your same-sex partner lies dying. (Ehrlich back in February: I believe that marriage is a union between a man and a woman, but I also have led efforts to give nontraditional couples access to benefits to which I believe they are entitled, such as medical decision-making authority.) Does that mean that Ehrlich would support actual civil unions, as opposed to some amorphous package of rights associated with civil unions? Who knows?

HoCo Rising also asked about what Brian Murphy’s position on the issue of marriage equality. This is a really interesting question. Murphy has an uncompromising (I mean, really uncompromising) position on abortion and is a strong advocate of the right to keep and bear arms with as few restrictions as possible. So one would also expect he’d be outspoken opponent of same-sex marriage or civil unions, in line with the classic God, guns, and gays stereotype of conservative Republicans. But I haven’t yet found one reference to any position Murphy might have on this topic: nothing on his issues page or elsewhere on his web site, nothing in an 15-minute interview he did with WUSA (part 1 and part 2), and nothing I could turn up via a fair amount of Google searching. What if anything might be the meaning of this local version of the curious incident of the dog in the night-time? That leads to my next thought:

The political risk (or lack thereof) in promoting marriage equality. Steve Charing recently urged Martin O’Malley to be on the right side of history and recommended that To heighten the chances for re-election, you should declare your support for marriage equality during this campaign… Which is what O’Malley (sort of) ended up doing. O’Malley’s shift, Ehrlich’s waffling, and Murphy’s silence all raise the question: Is there really any political risk anymore in a Maryland politician supporting marriage equality? Or, to flip the question around, is the window closing in which a Maryland politician has an opportunity to win brownie points for supporting marriage equality?

When I worked at Netscape our CEO, Jim Barksdale, reminded us that one surefire way to succeed was to find a parade and get in front of it. Regardless of what one might think of Doug Gansler and his effort to have Maryland recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages, I think there’s no denying that his support of marriage equality was a pretty smart political move: He suffered no political fallout whatsoever and is now free to spend the next four years preparing to run for governor, with the support of a key constituency in the Democratic party and a reputation for political leadership. While Gansler is leading that particular parade, O’Malley has come off the sidewalk and decided to walk alongside the marchers (hoping people will think he was with them all along), Ehrlich is leading a small counter-demonstration (but looking over his shoulder every now and then to check out the floats), and Murphy’s off attending a different event in another part of town.