Catherine “Katie” Curran O’Malley said Friday that she regrets characterizing opponents of the Maryland same-sex marriage bill that failed last year as “cowards.”

Catherine “Katie” Curran O’Malley on Oct. 19, 2010 in Baltimore, Md. (Mark Gail/The Washington Post)

In welcoming remarks Thursday night at a national conference of gay-rights advocates in Baltimore, the wife of Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) blamed the bill’s demise in the General Assembly on “some cowards that prevented it from passing.”

In a statement Friday, she said that she “let my 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.

Martin O’Malley 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 Katie 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.” He said that Katie O’Malley’s statement of regret did not satisfy him.

Last year’s legislation, which the governor supported but did not sponsor, narrowly passed the Senate before unexpectedly falling short in the House, traditionally the more liberal chamber on social issues.

A few delegates who had initially supported the bill later changed their minds, citing community opposition.

The legislation proved a hard sell 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.

The governor is scheduled to speak Sunday at the 24th National Conference on LGBT Equality, the gathering that his wife addressed Thursday.

Katie O’Malley’s remarks were first reported by the Associated Press. As a sitting judge, she 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 Maryland governors’ spouses.

She has used her position to champion several less controversial causes, including anti-bullying measures.

Aides say O’Malley feels very passionate about legalizing same-sex marriage. Last year, she met privately with several wavering lawmakers, urging them to support the bill. She said at the time that her advocacy as on the issue was “just as a citizen.”