In a statement Friday, the first lady said that she let her “feelings get the better of me.”
“I deeply respect that there are strongly held and differing views on marriage equality in Maryland but hope that our state’s elected officials will come together to fairly address this important issue for our families and children,” said O’Malley, a District Court judge in Baltimore.
The controversy comes as her husband, Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), is seeking to build support to pass a reworked same-sex marriage bill that he unveiled this week. By most accounts, bill supporters began the 90-day legislative session several votes short in the House of Delegates.
His wife’s comment seemed unlikely to help the governor’s efforts, at least in the short term.
Del. Jay Walker (D-Prince George’s) said he and several colleagues were shocked by Catherine O’Malley’s remark, which he called “borderline insulting.”
“Call me a coward, but I’m going to stand by my faith and my principles, as well as on my constituents’ beliefs,” said Walker, who opposed last year’s same-sex marriage bill. “Forget politics, my mom and dad did not raise a coward. . . . When you start name-calling, you cross the line of respect.”
Walker said Catherine O’Malley’s statement of regret did not satisfy him.
Last year’s legislation, which Gov. O’Malley supported but did not sponsor, narrowly passed the Senate before unexpectedly falling short in the House, which tends to be the more liberal chamber on social issues.
A few delegates who had initially voiced support for the bill withdrew their backing, citing community opposition.
The legislation proved a hard sell more generally among delegates from Prince George’s County, some of whom cited resistance from black churches, and among more conservative Democrats from Southern Maryland and the Baltimore suburbs.
Only one Republican lawmaker in the General Assembly voiced support for the legislation.
At a news conference this week, Gov. O’Malley said there is momentum for this year’s bill and touted more explicit language detailing “religious exemptions” in the bill.
Gov. O’Malley is scheduled to speak Sunday at the 24th National Conference on LGBT Equality, the gathering his wife addressed Thursday. Catherine O’Malley’s remarks were first reported by the Associated Press.
As a sitting judge, Catherine O’Malley is prohibited by a judicial code of conduct from engaging in partisan political activity. As a result, she has been less visible in some respects than other first ladies.
She has used her position to champion several less controversial causes, including anti-bullying measures.
Aides say Catherine O’Malley is passionate about legalizing same-sex marriage. “She didn’t intend and didn’t mean to offend anyone’s religious beliefs,” O’Malley spokeswoman Raquel Guillory said.
Last year, the first lady met privately with several wavering lawmakers, urging them to support the bill. She said at the time that her advocacy on the issue was “just as a citizen.”
Debate over the bill is expected to intensify starting next week. A Senate committee has scheduled the session’s first hearing on the legislation for Tuesday.
A group of lawmakers and religious leaders opposed to the bill plan a major rally Monday night outside the State House.