President Obama’s affirmative declaration of support for marriage equality was a spectacular ending to the most watched “evolution” in political history. But it was also a comfort, coming the day after North Carolina voters used a ballot referendum to amend the state constitution to ban not only same-sex marriage but also civil unions and domestic partnerships. The Tar Heel State, which already had a law banning gay marriage, is now the 30th state to adopt a constitutional amendment. But one state has the potential to break this disheartening trend: Maryland.
The state legislature passed and Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) signed a law in March, making Maryland the seventh state to legalize same-sex marriage. (The District has also done so.) It doesn’t take effect until January, which gives opponents the opportunity to try to bring the law up for a vote this November. Putting the rights of a minority up to a popular vote is wrong. Stripping rights from a minority is unjust. But O’Malley believes Obama’s announcement will be of great help.
“I think the president’s statement today is probably the most significant advancing of our cause since the bill-signing,” the governor told me during a meeting in Baltimore, two hours after Obama’s remarks became public. “This is an issue that is moving very quickly in the hearts and minds of people throughout our country, and that is certainly true here in the state of Maryland.”
Asked about the impact of the North Carolina results on Maryland, O’Malley said, “It is sometimes difficult — given the results of statewide referenda to date — to convince some that Maryland is actually very fertile ground for becoming the first state to pass a referendum affirming religious freedom and marriage equality.”
Part of what makes the state so fertile is its support of the president. He received 62 percent of the vote in the 2008 election. His approval rating is 55 percent. And support for same-sex marriage rests at the hope-inspiring 50 percent.
O’Malley was at the White House in February for a meeting of the Democratic Governors Association when the president gave him props for what was happening on marriage equality in Maryland. “[H]e was saying goodbye on his way around the table,” O’Malley said of the encounter. “He did shake my hand and say, ‘Congratulations on what you guys accomplished in Maryland. That’s a big, positive step.’ ” That was on Feb. 24, the day after the state Senate joined the House of Delegates in passing the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act.
“The president’s leadership here will be noticed by a lot of people all around the country. I think it is a very, very courageous, strong and positive step,” O’Malley said of the president. “Part of the art of leadership, part of the art of leading public opinion, is having the wisdom to know when the seeds of change will flourish.”
In that regard, O’Malley believes the president made the right call. And no doubt he’s hoping the seeds of change will flourish in Maryland come November.