Shifting views on the freedom to marry

As posted on

"To hear top elected officials talk, you'd think the prospects for legalizing the freedom to marry in Maryland anytime soon were as remote as a return to the moon. But that's not what the state's residents are saying. A new poll by The Washington Post has found that support for marriage equality is growing among registered voters in the state, making the issue one that the General Assembly almost inevitably will have to address during its next four-year term.

"The poll, conducted May 3-6, found that registered voters favored legalizing marriages of same-sex couples 48 percent to 43 percent. Moreover, among all state residents opinion on the issue is virtually tied, with 46 percent in favor of legalizing such unions and 44 percent opposed. That's a marked shift from 2007, the last time The Post asked about marriage equality. At that time, only 44 percent of respondents were in favor of legalizing the freedom to marry, with 51 percent opposed.

"What accounts for the shift in attitudes? Most likely a number of factors are at work, including demographic shifts in the population and the coming of age of a younger generation of Marylanders who have grown up with the assumption that gays and lesbians are entitled to the same rights as their heterosexual peers.

... "Perhaps the biggest change is that people have simply gotten used to the idea that gay couples are entitled to equal rights under the law — be it the right to visit a loved one in the hospital or the right to be covered under a partner's health-care plan. A younger generation today finds it hard to imagine that just just 60 years ago there were separate water fountains for blacks and whites in some parts of the country; as attitudes about gay rights continue to evolve, future generations may well wonder why the right of gay couples to marry was ever an issue.

"Gay rights advocates have already won a series of incremental victories in their fight for equality, most notably state Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler's advisory opinion this year that Maryland should honor marriages of same-sex couples performed in states where such unions are legal. That sets the stage for the inevitable next phase: A public debate and vote on whether to allow the freedom to marry here. Maryland's current leaders would surely rather duck the question, but they should understand that on this issue the people are slowly but surely leaving them behind."

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