The same-sex marriage debate is set for today on the Maryland House floor and the bill’s supporters are still scrambling to rally the support of undecided delegates and African-American voters.
Delegate Patrick Hogan, R-Frederick, said Wednesday he would not vote in favor of the legalization of same-sex marriage, a blow to the bill’s supporters who need every possible vote.
The bill—which failed to pass in the House last year—needs 71 votes for passage. The bill’s supporters have said they are ‘cautiously optimistic’ of its success and voted to move the bill out of committee and onto the floor earlier in the week, a sign that they think there may be enough votes on the floor.
Republican Delegate Robert Costa came out in favor of the bill, and supporters are hoping that some other undecided Republicans follow suit. But polling in the state has shown that same-sex marriage is more than a partisan issue.
A Washington Post poll of Maryland Democrats published on Jan. 30 found that 71 percent of white respondents supported the legalization of same-sex marriages, while 24 percent did not. Among blacks, 41 percent supported it, while 53 percent were opposed.
In a state where African-Americans account for almost 30 percent of the population, their support will be key in getting the bill passed.
The New York Times published an article in Thursday’s paper with the headline “Gay Marriage a Tough Sell with Blacks in Maryland” and said that all energy is now focused on trying to get black Democrats to support the bill.
Prominent African-American celebrities and clergy members are coming out in favor of the bill, in the hopes of getting other people in black communities on board.
“It’s a very sensitive subject in the black community,” Ezekiel Jackson, a political organizer for the 1199 Service Employees International Union in Maryland, who has been meeting with members, mostly health care workers, to persuade them to support the bill. “The culture is different. Gay people got pushed off into their own circle. Instead of dealing with it, they just lived their lives among like minds, apart.”
The Times reports that much of the hesitation among black Marylanders to support the bill is rooted in churches.
“This was an issue I knew I could not avoid,” said the Rev. Delman Coates, 39, one of two Baptist preachers who testified in support of the bill in a hearing last week. “Clergy leaders have been organizing against this, and I didn’t want my silence to sound like consent.”
Whatever the fate of the bill, some say the process of talking about it has changed the discourse surrounding gay marriage. The debate has brought about public converstations in communities where the subject has often been taboo.
“For the first time, many people who were not able to talk about it are seeing how important it is, and are talking,” said Tawanna P. Gaines, a Democratic lawmaker who supports the bill. “People are saying, ‘Here’s an opportunity for me to no longer have to lie about this.’ ”
Gov. Martin O’Malley explained the evolution of his same-sex marriage stance Wednesday evening at the Baltimore Sun Newsmaker Forum.
Prior to last year, O’Malley had been a supporter of civil unions, not same sex marriages.
"I was mayor of the city of Baltimore then and my political advisers and friends went absolutely nuts and said 'There is no such term as "civil marriage" … if you use the term "civil marriage" you are going to jeopardize whatever hope we have to defeat the current officeholder and make the sort of strides, in any number of areas, that [then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is] opposed to on these things," O'Malley said.
“So I stuck pretty much to civil unions, believing honestly that that was the place where a public consensus could be forged that could move us forward. ... I have since seen that this debate is moving much more quickly."
* In Virginia news, the Sunday hunting bill that would have lifted the state’s ban on Sunday hunting was voted down in a House subcommittee Wednesday.
Legislation to lift the Sunday hunting ban was overwhelmingly passed in the Senate.
* Today, a bill that would give tax credits to businesses that contribute to private school scholarships for underserved students will be on the Senate floor.
* The Post is reporting on a Pew study which found that one in five new married couples in the District are interracial couples.
In the District, intermarriages account for 19 percent of all newlywed couples, compared to 14 percent in Virginia and 12 percent in Maryland. The only states where intermarriage is more common lie west of the Mississippi River.
But the biggest differences are between different races and ethnicities. The share of whites who marry “out” of their race has more than doubled since 1980, to 9 percent. The percentage of blacks who marry non-blacks has more than tripled, to 17 percent. Asians and Hispanics have the highest rates of intermarriage, with more than a quarter of all Asian newlyweds marrying a non-Asian. But that rate of Hispanics who marry non-Hispanics hasn’t changed since 1980, while the percentage of Asians who intermarry has dipped a bit.