By Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 14, 2006; B03
Under the gaze of a cast-iron sculpture of Thurgood Marshall, hundreds of gay couples chanted, "We shall not be moved," and urged Maryland lawmakers to fend off fresh efforts to ban same-sex marriage.
Aggressive lobbying from Equality Maryland, the advocacy group that organized the boisterous rally in Annapolis last night, helped prevent passage of such a ban last month.
At last night's rally, gay men, lesbians and their supporters braved the winter chill to champion what many said was the next chapter of the civil rights movement. There was unmistakable civil rights imagery -- chants and songs that echoed those used to call for racial equality and speeches from leaders such as former congressman and NAACP president Kweisi Mfume, who is running in the Maryland Democratic primary for U.S. Senate.
"I know that gay bashing and immigrant bashing and union bashing at the end of the day rob us of our moral authority," Mfume told the crowd.
Republican leaders in the state House and Senate and aides to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) said yesterday that they have not dropped their bid for a constitutional amendment. Two new bills, one in each chamber, have been introduced to try to force the issue back onto the agenda before the General Assembly adjourns in April.
"Time has a way of changing things," said Sen. Larry E. Haines (R-Carroll), who drafted one of the new proposals aimed at adding a same-sex marriage ban to the state constitution.
Typically, legislation that has been defeated in a House committee dies quietly in the Senate because it lacks a realistic shot of reaching the governor's desk. But Haines said he believes the dynamics in this issue could yield an unexpected outcome.
The proposal, a perennial in the General Assembly, has drawn attention this year because of a recent Baltimore Circuit Court ruling that the state's 33-year-old law banning same-sex marriage is discriminatory and unconstitutional.
Although that ruling was stayed, pending appeal, Republicans said the legislature needed to intervene immediately.
Haines predicted that the governor's support, which appeared to lack gusto during the House debate, would be more vigorous when the Senate takes up the issue. Haines said Ehrlich met with him last week and promised to get actively involved in the lobbying drive for his bill.
Ehrlich's deputy press secretary said yesterday that the governor's role in the fight "has yet to be determined."
Haines predicted that a petition drive, much like the one that was thwarted by House leaders, also could have a different outcome in his chamber. Senate Republicans need only two Democrats to sign on to reach the 16 signatures needed to bring the matter to the floor.
But Senate Democrats are wary. Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery), who chairs the committee that will hold a hearing March 1 on Haines's bill, called it "a futile exercise."
"They may try to make the Senate go through this, but that bears no relationship to its chance for actual passage of legislation," Frosh said. "What we're talking about now is TV time and headlines."
Advocacy groups on both sides of the marriage debate have shown no sign that they will let up. In e-mails sent to every lawmaker, representatives of the Christian Coalition pledged to champion the ban during the remainder of the 90-day legislative session and during the upcoming election season.
Last night, as they cheered and waved signs at the foot of the State House steps, members of the gay community pledged to remain engaged in lobbying state lawmakers.
"This is one more battle in the long march for equal rights," said Jean Carr of Gaithersburg, who has lived with her partner for 24 years and raised three children with her. "That much is clear to everyone here."
Mfume acknowledged the parallels to the African American struggle, saying in an interview, "I am steeped in the civil rights era. The law has to be extended so that everybody is protected."
Another Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, Lise Van Susteren, also attended the rally.