• November 7, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The Dish headline called it the “single biggest night for gay rights in electoral history.” And it’s hard to mess with that assessment. Voters in Maryland, Maine, Washington and Minnesota voted in favor of marriage equality.

    But beyond those ballot measure victories, Andrew Sullivan reports that gay men and lesbians made up five percent of the electorate, the vast majority of them supporting Obama, “the first president to support marriage equality, and who mentioned gays by name for the first time in the history of victory speeches.”

    Then of course, there was the election of Tammy Baldwin to the U.S. Senate, the first openly gay person to serve in that chamber.

    But Sullivan’s post provides plenty of detail of the efforts to defeat the equality measures, including the funding and work of the National Organization for Marriage, a religious right outfit that strives to scuttle marriage equality by employing tired tactics of demonization. NOM says its mission is “to protect marriage and the faith communities that sustain it.” Sullivan highlights a piece from Adam Serwer reporting that NOM “believed that putting forth black and Latino spokespeople, they could discredit the idea of same-sex marriage as a civil rights cause and drive a wedge between two typically Democratic constituencies…".

    In Maryland Serwer concluded NOM’s strategy appeared rather wobbly.

    Indeed, Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Coalition, said part of the success in Maryland involved creating partnerships with other civil liberties groups, such as the NAACP, clergy and businesses, The Washington Post reported.

  • February 22, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Though leaders of the Maryland Senate have delayed consideration of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s marriage equality bill, The Washington Post reports the measure is still expected to pass the chamber and reach the governor by week’s end.

    The Senate’s Minority Whip Edward R. Reilly (R-Anne Arundel), the newspaper reports, obtained the delay so amendments to the equality measure could be prepared. Senate President Thomas Miller Jr. said he expects the measure to pass the Senate, as it did last year.

    O’Malley (pictured) is pushing hard to add Maryland to the list of states that have legalized same-sex marriage. Following last week’s approval of the measure by the Maryland House of Delegates, the governor said “we’re prepared to redouble our efforts” as the Senate considers the measure.

    “The common thread,” he continued, “running through our efforts together in Maryland is the thread of human dignity; the dignity of work, the dignity of faith, the dignity of family, the dignity of every individual.”

    As in Washington, where Gov. Chris Gregoire recently enacted marriage equality legislation, Christian evangelical lobbyists in Maryland are vowing to drag marriage equality before voters, if need be.

    The Maryland Marriage Alliance, representing a gaggle of Christian evangelical interests, is loudly arguing that marriage must remain exclusive to men and women. In a missive on the group’s website, it claims that houses of worship that refuse to conduct weddings for gays and lesbians will place their tax benefits in jeopardy. Maryland’s equality bill, however, contains and exemption for houses of worship, much like the one that passed last year in New York. The Md. bill explicitly states that houses of worship, which receive generous government tax benefits, can play be different rules, and discriminate against gays and lesbians if they wish.

  • February 20, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    While some lawmakers and politicians are working to end a few of the nation’s inequalities, like the one centering on the right of gays and lesbians to wed, others are keeping up the ignoble work of trying to hobble or defeat efforts to advance equality.

    For example, in many of the states where marriage equality is advancing, special interest groups have mounted, or in the midst of doing so, campaigns to ensure that government recognition of marriage belongs exclusively to men and women.

    After Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire enacted marriage equality legislation, social conservatives promised to gather enough signatures to place the newly gained civil liberty before the voters. N.J. Gov. Chris Christie has endorsed placing civil liberties before the voters when he vetoed a bill allowing lesbians and gays to wed. (Newark, N.J. Mayor Cory Booker took issue with Christie’s tactic, saying equal rights should never be placed before the whims of the majority.)

    Religious right groups are also promising to topple the effort by Maryland to allow same-sex marriage. The Maryland Marriage Alliance, which calls itself a an “interfaith coalition dedicated” to keeping marriage an exclusive institution, has promised to launch a petition movement to place the law before voters, provided it passes the Maryland Senate and is signed by Gov. Martin O’Malley, both highly likely. The Maryland Senate passed a similar measure last year, and O’Malley (pictured) has said he would sign the new measure. The governor has also upped his involvement this time around – he’s sponsoring the equality legislation that is moving through the legislature.

    Following the approval last week by the Md. House of Delegates, O’Malley applauded the outcome, saying the chamber had “voted for human dignity.”

    The marriage alliance, a gathering of primarily evangelical Christian groups, issued a press statement decrying the House’s vote as undermining the exclusive definition of marriage and noting, “thankfully,” that the state “allows for a referendum process by a people’s vote, and we are committed, if needed, to bring this issue to the vote of the people of Maryland.”

    Like the law enacted last year in New York, the Maryland marriage equality measure includes a provision granting an exemption for houses of worship to refuse to marry lesbians and gays. The Maryland Senate is expected, The Washington Post reports, to promptly take up the equality bill. The newspaper says the senate’s Judicial Proceedings Committee and the full chamber “quickly could approve the bill” with the possibility of sending it to O’Malley by week’s end. The state is moving quickly to become the eighth one to allow lesbians and gays to wed, joining Washington, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Iowa. The District of Columbia also recognizes same-sex marriage.

  • December 12, 2011

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Advocates for repealing the death penalty say there are hopeful signs that 2012 will see great progress toward their goal, Politico reports.

    Efforts are underway in California, Kansas, Ohio, Maryland and Connecticut to dump the use of the death penalty. Politico notes, “Advocates say the coming year could be their best opportunity yet to replace the death penalty with life without the possibility of parole in these states, pointing to shifts in public opinion, rising concern over execution costs, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber’s recent decision to place a moratorium on capital punishment, and Troy Davis’s high-profile execution galvanizing opposition to the death penalty.”

    Diann Rust-Tierney, head of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, told Politico that Davis’s case helped spark greater attention to how states employ capital punishment. “That was a sad but stark example to folks of how broken the system is,” Rust-Tierney said.

    Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said, “Any of those [state efforts] could succeed, but they’re all teed up for this coming year."

    As Politico notes, the SAFE California Campaign, which is working to place an initiative before voters next year to abolish the death penalty, has cited the enormous costs – in the billions – of carrying out the death penalty in a state burdened with significant budgetary woes .  

    In a Dec. 2 guest post for ACSblog, Andrew Love, a death penalty lawyer in California, noted, “A study released by U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Arthur L. Alarcon found that California’s death penalty system is currently costing the state about $184 million per year. Further, ‘since reinstating the death penalty in 1978, California taxpayers have spent roughly $4 billion to fund a dysfunctional death penalty system that has carried out no more than 13 executions.'"

  • July 27, 2011
    Guest Post

    By Jamie Raskin, a Maryland State Senator representing Silver Spring and Takoma Park, and a professor of constitutional law at American University Washington College of Law, where he directs the Program on Law and Government. He was a lead sponsor of the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act, which passed the Maryland Senate earlier this year and, as floor leader, managed several days of legislative debate on the measure. Raskin is a Senior Fellow at People For the American Way.

    Advocates of marriage equality in Maryland are delighted that our Governor, Martin O’Malley, has decided to introduce a marriage bill next year and throw himself with vigor into this important fight for equal rights for gay and lesbian Marylanders.  As a lead sponsor of this year’s legislation in the State Senate--where it passed on a vote of 25-21, I have a strong sense that the Governor’s decision puts us on a clear path to victory in the House of Delegates--and soon.

    To be clear, I am not one who ever faulted O’Malley (pictured) for the way things fell apart in the House of Delegates in spring of 2011. Those of you watching the Bermuda Triangle-style events that took place there may recall that freshman Democratic sponsors of the bill dropped off, pleading ignorance of its meaning, while other Delegates decided to play “Let’s-Make-a-Deal” with this major piece of civil rights legislation, offering their votes only in return for a juicy piece of legislative pork for their districts.  It’s true that a robust lobbying effort by the Governor might have tamed some of the wilder behavior displayed on the House side, but even the extremely able and popular House Speaker, Michael Busch, could not put out the strange political brushfires that seemed to break out on a daily basis.  Three of his six Committee Chairmen themselves took a walk on us, along with one member of his Democratic whip hierarchy. The Speaker finally made the call to send the bill back to Committee without a floor vote.

    I am not sure what anyone could have done in that environment to turn things around. We can’t forget that the bill that passed the Senate was a sturdy and sea-worthy vehicle that reconciled every conceivable legitimate desire for religious liberty exemption with the overriding constitutional and legal command of equal rights under law. We can’t forget that there were seven -- yes, seven -- openly gay and demonstrably eloquent Delegates in the House who beseeched their colleagues from the floor to do the right thing. (In the Senate, we have only one, the estimable Rich Madaleno.) We can’t forget that every House Republican voted against us whereas, on the Senate side, the Minority Leader, the refreshingly old-fashioned Allan Kittleman, actually gave up his party leadership post in order to support the bill and show that the party of Lincoln still has a heartbeat, however lonely and faint. We also can’t forget that there was a huge conservative religious mobilization in the state against marriage equality after we saw victory in the Senate and that Maryland, after all, was the Catholic colony back in the day.