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Same-sex marriage opinion was politics unusual in Maryland

Shrewd or misguided?

Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler's opinion likely sets up a showdown in the state's courts.
Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler's opinion likely sets up a showdown in the state's courts. (Alfredo Duarte Pereira/el Tiempo Latino)
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The decision sets up a likely showdown in the state's highest court, and Gansler said he thinks his opinion has provided a successful road map for same-sex couples to win such cases.

If voters become more comfortable with same-sex marriage over the next four years, the move could prove a shrewd one for an attorney general already positioning himself to run for governor in 2014. If not, he could be cast as too liberal even in his party's own primary.

The other Democrats who hold statewide office and who are likely to seek the nomination haven't supported same-sex marriage.

More immediately: In an election year with the seats of not only O'Malley but all 188 state legislators up for grabs, Gansler's decision exerts new pressure on Democrats with tenuous holds on the state's more conservative districts. The state's Republican Party has made clear that a primary focus in November will be to pick off five seats to break the Senate's filibuster-proof majority. At least some of those Democrats are likely to face committee votes on same-sex bills in coming weeks.

"We have a long history of pragmatic politics," said Del. John L. Bohanan Jr., a powerful Democrat who represents Southern Maryland and who often votes against bills introduced by his more-liberal colleagues. "You've got the rural areas that offset some of the more progressive areas, and because of that . . . there are some issues that you'd think we'd be a lot further ahead on than we are, which I think is appropriate."

Bohanan then described an exchange that often typifies some of the tension within the state's Democratic majority: "Somebody said in [the] Appropriations [Committee] the other day that, 'Well, you know California has passed this bill already,' and I said, 'Some of us believe that if they've done it, then we run in the opposite direction.' "

Defining the Democrats

A recent Gallup poll found that 57.7 percent of Maryland voters are Democratic or left-leaning, the highest percentage in the country aside from the District.

The party's power is centered in the middle of the state, in Baltimore and the heavily populated Washington suburbs of Montgomery and Prince George's counties. Democrats win in rural areas, too, but often by toeing conservative lines on immigration and crime issues.

Religion also plays a moderate role. A strong arc of Catholic voters resides throughout Howard and Anne Arundel counties, boosting the legislature's ranks of Catholics to 53, or almost a third of lawmakers. Catholics are only outnumbered by the half of Maryland lawmakers who identify themselves as Protestant.

"Maryland's electorate, and therefore its lawmakers, are different than in other blue states," said Del. Emmett C. Burns Jr., a pastor and Baltimore County Democrat who authored a House bill that failed last month to ban recognition of out-of-state same-sex marriages.

"The leadership of both the House and the Senate are Catholic, and I think the religious aspect has a lot to do with what happens in Annapolis," Burns said. "We have a bumping of the heads of the legal and the moral. And even though it's mostly run by the legal minds, the morality of this -- in the minds of many in the legislature -- supersedes."

Although Burns's bill failed, a similar measure against recognizing out-of-state same-sex marriages remains active in the Senate.

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