By Len Lazarick
As Gov. Martin O’Malley rolled out his enthusiastic support for a same-sex marriage bill Friday, he was curiously unable to articulate how his thinking had changed so much in just five or six years.
Raised Roman Catholic, O’Malley as Baltimore mayor and City Council member had supported rights for gay couples, but he had taken a very traditional view of marriage as between one man and one woman. When he became governor, he supported gay rights measures, but said he would only support a law creating civil unions.
That changed during last year’s campaign, when he said he would sign a same-sex marriage bill. Now, sponsoring one is a priority.
Three different reporters asked O’Malley three different versions of the same question: How had he come from his more traditional view of marriage to believing same-sex marriage “is a civil rights issue?”
The answer to that question is important because O’Malley’s ultimate task is to persuade another three, four or five members of the House of Delegates to support a bill like the one that passed the Senate by two votes earlier this year, but was never voted on by the full House.
And to do that, O’Malley and others must convince some of these lawmakers to give up their own principled opposition to calling the union of two people of the same gender “marriage.” Or, if their lack of support is based on fear of offending key constituent groups – such as congregations of black churches – he must give these wary delegates the rational arguments and support to explain a yes vote to their constituents.
When O’Malley spoke, you could trace some elements of the evolution of a position that puts him at odds with the officials of his own and many Christian churches, as does his stance favoring abortion rights.
“The ability to come together around marital equality is something that I think was one of the faster moving issues of opinion that we’ve seen in our country in some time,” O’Malley said. That’s the political argument. Conditioned by favorable media treatment of gay families and perhaps their own experiences, more members of the public now favor gay marriage.
“At the end of the day, all of us need to look at this issue from the eye of children of gay committed couples,” O’Malley said, as the adopted black daughter of a gay white senator made drawings in the front row. “How is one family protected less in the eyes of the law than the other family?” That’s the “do-it-for-children” argument.
Asked again to explain how he changed his mind, he seemed slightly embarrassed to “roll around too much in individual stories.”
“I was raised that there were certain things that religions and churches dispensed,” and that laws dispense other things, O’Malley explained. Marriage is “a sacrament by organized religion,” and he wants to protect that.
But now he believes, “this is an evolution of the progress of our state to perfect our laws so that they more fully protect the right of every individual.”
Asked a third time to explain how his personal views had changed, O’Malley lapsed into familiar slogans: “I have always believed in the dignity of every individual. I believe in our own responsibility to advance the greatest good.” He even trotted out “the unity of spirit and matter,” a phrase O’Malley likes, but is difficult to define.
Maybe there is no grand explanation for O’Malley’s evolution. Perhaps it was a combination of things: the movement of public opinion, the persistent pressure from gay officeholders and the success of the gay marriage law in New York.
Perhaps he couldn’t embrace the argument that led Sen. Allan Kittleman, a married Christian, to move from backing civil unions for everyone, gays and straight alike, to become the sole Republican supporting it. Kittleman said that civil unions just had too much opposition from all sides, and the term gay marriage achieved the equality for same-sex couples that he had been hoping for.
Kittleman won no friends with this explanation. But to counter the continued opposition of the Catholic Church, evangelicals and the politically influential black churches, O’Malley needs to come up with better arguments than the ones the churches have already rejected.
And the arguments are not just for the lawmakers. “The problem is that we’ll see it on the ballot,” Attorney General Doug Gansler told the Columbia Democratic Club Sunday. Gansler, a strong supporter of gay marriage, said a referendum on the issue is likely. President Obama’s name on the 2012 ballot will produce another strong turnout of black voters.
“We have to work on African-Americans who are troubled by [gay marriage],” Gansler said.