In advance of the 90-day session, labor leaders are promoting the new priority in coming days with a news conference and participation in an Internet video campaign organized by a group pushing to make Maryland the seventh state (in addition to the District) to allow gay nuptials.
“At 1199 SEIU, we support working families, not just certain families,” Ezekiel Jackson, an organizer for health-care workers in Maryland and the District, says in the video, in which he dons a Baltimore Orioles baseball cap. “That’s why bringing marriage equality to Maryland is important. It’s about making all families, including committed gay and lesbian couples, and their kids, stronger.”
A bill to legalize same-sex marriage fell short last year, and both sides are mobilizing for a rematch that will probably be decided by a handful of wavering members of the House of Delegates.
Late last year, a diverse coalition of religious leaders launched a renewed campaign against “redefining” marriage with a pair of news conferences at churches in Prince George’s County and Baltimore, jurisdictions that several of the targeted lawmakers represent.
Bill supporters, among them Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), are hopeful that some additional muscle will be added to their side by organized labor, which despite declining membership has a still-strong tradition in Maryland of helping its friends at election time.
SEIU affiliates alone steered more than $575,000 to Maryland legislative candidates during the 2010 election cycle, according to campaign finance records.
Fred D. Mason Jr., president of the Maryland State and District of Columbia AFL-CIO, said labor’s stance on marriage rights builds on its long-standing support of measures to protect gay people in the workplace. And it is an acknowledgment that some of its members are gay, he said.
“When push comes to shove, union members, regardless of their personal views, stand on the side of social justice,” said Mason, who has a son who is gay. “This is certainly a major issue for Maryland, and organized labor will not stand on the sidelines.”
The AFL-CIO serves as an umbrella organization for several dozen international unions with chapters in Maryland — some of them newer than others to the fight over same-sex marriage.
Nationally, SEIU has been on record supporting marriage rights for gay couples since 2004. The service-workers union was heavily involved in last year’s successful effort for same-sex marriage legislation in New York.
In Maryland, labor leaders are hoping to build upon that momentum with a broader coalition. At a convention in November, the AFL-CIO affiliates unanimously passed a resolution supporting passage of legislation that O’Malley has pledged to sponsor this year.