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So what happened in #MARRYland?

by Jeremy Hooper

As you've surely heard by now, the Maryland House failed to take a vote on marriage, as they were expected to do today, with the Democratic-controlled chamber instead sending the bill back to the Judiciary Committee. Translation: They didn't have the lock-solid votes, so rather than take an unsuccessful chance, leadership took the strategic step of tabling the measure until a hopefully more favorable time in the not-too-distant future.

Official word from the tireless EQMD:


March 11, 2011 -- After lengthy debate and support from thousands of Marylanders from all over the state, today the House of Delegates recommitted the Civil Marriage Protection Act to committee.

Statement by the Staff and Board of Equality Maryland; Morgan Meneses-Sheets, Executive Director and Charles Butler, Board President

"While we are disappointed the House did not vote to pass marriage equality today, we are confident we will win in the future. With so much at stake today for thousands of Maryland families, we are thankful that our legislative allies have taken such care with this vote. It is best to delay this historic vote until we are absolutely sure we have the votes to win. We look forward to working strategically with our amazing allies in the legislature, and our supporters across the state, to continue to build support for, and win, marriage equality in the Free State.

We are extraordinarily grateful to the many leaders who have stood by us throughout this journey. We wouldn't have made it this far without their tireless dedication. We especially would like to thank our lead sponsors - Senators Rob Garagiola (D-15), Jamie Raskin (D-20) and Rich Madaleno (D-18) and Delegates Kumar Barve (D-17), Ben Barnes (D-21) and Keiffer Mitchell. We are also extremely fortunate to have such dedicated leaders in the members of Maryland's LGBT Caucus and proud to call them not just our partners but our friends. Special thanks to Delegates Maggie McIntosh (D-43), Heather Mizeur (D-20), Anne Kaiser (D-14), Luke Clippinger (D-46), Bonnie Cullison (D-19), Mary Washington (D-43) and Peter Murphy (D-28). No one could have done more to push for the passage of this legislation.

We commend the thousands of supporters across the state who made calls, sent emails, and met with their legislators to tell them why all Maryland couples should be treated fairly. Folks from all over Maryland stood up and told their stories, got involved and built grassroots support to extend to the freedom to marry to all loving and committed couples.

As a result of the tireless efforts, strong hearts, and the determination of gay and lesbian couples and our many allies it is only a matter of time before Marylanders achieve marriage equality.

Equality Maryland is more committed than ever to this fight. We're committed to working with our allies in the legislature to redouble our efforts to ensure that our voices are heard and our rights are protected. We know our cause is just. We know that a growing majority of Marylanders believe in the same values of fairness and equality.

We must commit to this fight for the long haul, and together we will triumph!"


Which is all true. And I know from firsthand dealings that EQMD has been putting in the time. Talking the talk. Walking the walk. As so many of our groups do, state and national.

But what does today's development show us? Well, I'd argue that it's yet another reminder of how far we are from being able to effectively beat back the other side's carefully workshopped, highly coordinated, unreachably financed efforts to plant rhetorical turds in the waters of this debate. Because again: Our side did do the work in terms of getting bodies and calls and heartfelt stories out to both the legislators and the public. Our side connected the dots. Our side did all that we would need to do in a world where "pro-family" actually meant that. But in the political reality in which this marriage debate actually plays out, we are still not at a place where we can firewall just enough of our would-be, should-be, could-be supporters from the lies, half-truths, and duplicitous motivations of the National Organization For Marriage, the Family Research Council, MassResistance (who've been aggressive in MD), and all the rest of those self-appointed "marriage protectors":

FRC Praises Maryland House of Delegates for Stopping Same-Sex 'Marriage' Bill
March 11, 2011

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Family Research Council today praised the members of the Maryland House of Delegates for their decision to return to the House Judiciary Committee a bill that would legalize same-sex "marriage."

FRC Senior Fellow for Policy Studies Peter Sprigg, a Maryland resident who had testified against the bill at hearings in both chambers of the Maryland General Assembly, made the following comments:

"The confidence of homosexual activists that they would be able to redefine marriage in Maryland was clearly misplaced. The opposition to this bill - even from one of its former co-sponsors - reflects the groundswell of opposition expressed by the people of Maryland.

"Particular thanks must go to the African-American pastors, church members, and delegates who spoke out against the attempted hijacking of the concept of 'civil rights.'

"We now urge the members of the Maryland House Judiciary Committee to take no further action on this divisive bill, and instead to allow the General Assembly to turn its attention to the economic and fiscal needs of Maryland."

Now, true to form for a man who has called for both our "exportation" and criminalization, Peter's press release is a complete overstatement. The truth is that if we didn't have the votes in the MD House, we just barely didn't have the votes (as low as one vote, I've heard). Which is terrible, bad, no good news for Peter's side and his cause. Because ten years ago we wouldn't have been anywhere close, while today we are so close we can smell the Charm City wedding cake. So Peter's gloating about a "groundswell" might make him feel better today. But if he's honest with himself, he knows the gained yardage is much, much greener on the pro-equality side. It just is.

But that being said: These false reality campaigns -- which in MD, have most prominently come from FRC and NOM, along with their allies in the Catholic church -- are exactly what are making us lose, even when barely. If you listen closely and you know what you're listening for, you'll hear it from many a feet-dragging lawmaker in just about any state legislative debate. The canards about children's books. Fallacious references to specific instances like Catholic Charities or the NJ pavilion. Tag lines like "Gays and Lesbians have a right to live as they choose, they don’t have the right to redefine marriage for all of us." And of course there's never, ever, ever any talk about banning marriage. This is all from NOM and crew! It's essentially PR. All they need to do is provide enough cover for just enough lawmakers to cast just enough of a negative vote. And they do this by telling people what the reality supposedly is, sticking to the talking points with the ferocity of a rabid robot, and refusing to let any narrative-transcending fact get in there way. They did this is Maryland on an almost daily basis (probably even more than we know) -- and it seems that the ideas caught hold with just enough lawmakers.

I honestly don't think we're going to get that next notch until we commit even more to nipping this stuff in the bud at every single turn. Don't get me wrong: We'll continue to win here and there, regardless, because we are simply on the right side of a changing history. But I mean that next notch, where you and me and the tree will stop seeing Maggie Gallagher's false victimization rhetoric being so able to beat back cogent arguments. Where we'll stop consistently losing debates that hurt us on both a soulful and intellectual level. To get us to that next level up, I truly believe we're going to have to vow to say "Oh hell no!" to the anti-LGBT nonsense, whenever and wherever it exists. In an obsessive way. You know: Like bloggers do, writ large.

It's so easy to roll your eyes and dismiss the hyperbole. It's convenient to write off the other side as fringe and hope others will follow suit. It's understandable to think that actual, real life stories of actual, real life gay families will be enough to put this overwrought debate to rest. It's noble to think that if we show up with our positive spirits and our benign bonds of humanity, that we'll organically drown out the noise. It all makes so much sense. But unfortunately, it's not a reliably winning strategy. Not in a political reality where we can be defeated by the barest of majority voters, be it from legislator or private citizen. In this reality, we must train our would-be, could-be, should-be allies to recognize untruth when they hear it. We must force folks to ask themselves if they really want to side with a team that so often resorts to proven fallacy in order to skate by. We must raise as many many questions about the worth of discrimination as our opposition raises about gay people's societal worth. We must fundamentally change the ongoing conversation, not just the ones that pop up around this or that localized debate.

Moving forward in MD (and elsewhere), that's what I'd like to see more of. So that we get not only those one or two needed votes in the legislature, but also the countless more we'll need at the pretty much unavoidable referendum that will follow thereafter.

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