Maryland governor supports recognition of out-of-state marriages

by Scott Stiffler

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday July 13, 2009

When Gov. Martin O'Malley responded to a WTOP radio host's question regarding his opinion on whether Maryland should recognize marriages between same-sex couples from other states, his answer garnered praise from activists across the state. But the response, however, called into question if, and when, gay and lesbian Marylanders will be able to tie the knot in their state.

"I think that it's very difficult to deny equal rights to people when it comes to rights that are dispersed by government rather than a faith or a church and so I think if a person has these rights under another state than I think we're sore pressed to deny those rights, so yes, I think we probably should respect those rights," O'Malley told WTOP earlier this month.

An Equality Maryland press release praised the governor's response as "a very positive development. It further noted O'Malley's statement came on the heels of pro-LGBT actions that include adding health and retirement benefits for same-sex partners of state employees into his budget and signing a bill that eliminates the inheritance tax on jointly owned primary residences for domestic partners. O'Malley also submitted testimony in support of a bill that would ban discrimination based on gender identity and expression.

O'Malley's position on out-of-state marriage comes at a time when Attorney General Doug Gansler is formulating an opinion as to whether or not Maryland can recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages. Openly gay state Sen. Rich Madaleno [D-Montgomery County] requested an opinion several weeks ago.
Madaleno, who is the lead sponsor of the Senate's Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act, a bill that would extend marriage to same-sex couples, spoke with EDGE about O'Malley's statement as well as how the 2010 elections may impact the marriage debate in Maryland.

Asked why the governor isn't advocating marriage for same-sex couples in his own state given that he endorses the recognition of those performed elsewhere, Madaleno admits he'd "love to know the answer to that question myself."

"It's one of the things I find frustrating about the current situation," he said. "The governor continues to say he is for civil unions, but he's not proposed that. Our opponents will not fight any less hard on civil unions than they will marriage, so I think he should make the leap that many of my colleagues have in saying that marriage is truly they only viable alternative."

"I think that it's very difficult to deny equal rights to people when it comes to rights that are dispersed by government rather than a faith or a church."

Madaleno sees the governor's position on recognizing unions performed outside the state as a positive development - but one which inexplicably stops short of evolving into advocating for those marriage rights within his home state.
"I'm thrilled the governor said what he said - that the state needs to recognize a valid marriage from another state," Madaleno said.

He further notes, however, O'Malley has "continually said that his religious convictions lead him to believe that civil unions are a viable alternative for Maryland - but he's not put his support behind any one measure because it's hard to see how it would pass."

The reason behind the governor's lack of aggressive action on the matter of same-sex civil unions may very well boil down to that old excuse: political expediency.

"The lawyer in him is saying you've got people with a valid contract in another state, how can we not recognize that contract when they come to Maryland?" Madaleno said. "It's his legal training running up against his religious convictions running up against his political sensibility."
He further discussed his bill and why it has yet to come up to a vote.

"The other dynamic at play, within any piece of legislation, is that if we pass a bill, it could be petitioned to referendum," Madaleno said.

The state has no direct ballot initiative process like California and other states. Madaleno said he expects the country will see even more support for marriage leading up to the 2010 elections. And he remains optimistic O'Malley will continue to evolve.

"The governor says he's thinking and wrestling with this issue of same-sex marriage in Maryland," Madaleno said. "Maybe his position will have evolved by 2011 or 2012."

Scott Stiffler is a New York City based writer and comedian who has performed stand-up, improv, and sketch comedy. His show, "Sammy's at The Palace. . .at Don't Tell Mama"---a spoof of Liza Minnelli's 2008 NYC performance at The Palace Theatre, recently had a NYC run. He must eat twice his weight in fish every day, or he becomes radioactive.

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