Maryland governor suggests he would sign freedom to marry bill

Posted by Aaron C. Davis on washingtonpost.com:

"Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) on Thursday suggested that he would sign a bill supporting the freedom to marry if reelected and the state's General Assembly passed one, which has so far been reluctant to do so.

"The comment by O'Malley on WTOP went slightly further than he had previously, and was his most direct public comment on marriage equality during his reelection bid. During his first term, O'Malley has consistently stopped short of endorsing marriages for same-sex couples and has said he favors civil unions.

"O'Malley's remark came in response to a question from a caller on the station's "Ask the Governor" program about the future of marriage equality in Maryland.

"'I don't have a crystal ball to predict how this goes,' O'Malley said, 'but I do know this: I know the people of our state well enough that for all of the differences and diversities of backgrounds and opinions, that all of us want to find a way to craft our laws in such a way that they treat people equally under the law.'

"O'Malley said he personally believes that allowing for civil unions would be the best way to reach a compromise in the legislature. But he added that 'should the legislature find a way to reach that compromise in another way, I would sign a bill like that ... we need to find a way to support equal rights, and that is true when it comes to committed gay and lesbian couples and the unions in which they choose to enter and raise children and all the issues that go with that.'

"O'Malley spokesman Shaun Adamec cast the governor's comments as consistent with previous statements, saying the governor had said he would sign a freedom to marry bill if and when it passes.

"This year, there were enough votes on the House Judiciary Committee to send the question to the floor for a vote, but the committee chairman, Del. Joseph F. Vallario (D-Prince George's), did not bring the measure up for a vote. House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) does not support it. He favors civil unions and considers marriage the purview of the church. In the Senate, led by longtime President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), lawmakers are traditionally more socially conservative than in the House.

... "In February, Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler told state agencies to begin granting married same-sex couples from elsewhere the same rights as Maryland's heterosexual couples.

"That move touched off a heated debate in the legislature, spawning bills to both legalize marriage equality and to ban it. Several evangelical pastors from predominantly black churches in Baltimore and Prince George's lobbied lawmakers to support a ban, which was never brought to a vote.

"A Washington Post poll in May found that Maryland residents are shifting toward a more positive opinion of the freedom to marry. Registered voters now narrowly support a law to allow it.

"The poll found that 46 percent overall favored legal marriages for same-sex couples, 44 percent oppose it, and 10 percent have no opinion. Among registered voters, 48 percent are in favor and 43 percent are opposed.

"In late 2007, an identical Post poll question found 44 percent in favor overall and 51 percent opposed.

"Maryland's move away from a clear majority opposition to marriage equality -- and into a nearly equally split electorate -- mirrors national trends. The state's few openly gay lawmakers have said that they would push for a freedom to marry bill next year.

"Former governor Robert L. Ehrlich (R), O'Malley's likely opponent in the November election, has said he considers marriage as solely between a man and a woman."

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