New York’s same-sex-marriage effort may take lessons from Maryland’s defeat

New York’s same-sex-marriage effort may take lessons from Maryland’s defeat

Despite the National Organization for Marriage declaring preemptive victory Wednesday, the battle over legalizing same-sex marriage wages on in New York, with many indicators pointing to a vote any minute now. New York’s 2011 legislative session had been originally scheduled to end on Monday, but as The Washington Post reports, negotiations continue over the wording of religious exemptions within the bill.

Throughout NOM’s recent anti-gay-marriage campaign in New York, the organization has claimed victories against same-sex marriage in Maryland and Rhode Island. Within one month of each other this spring, both states’ gay-marriage bills died in their respective Houses due to an anticipated lack of votes for passage. “Once our message got out and legislators heard from their constituents, same-sex marriage was stopped dead in its tracks,” said NOM President Brian Brown in a May press release. “We expect the same to happen in New York.”

NOM took credit for helping to stall, and eventually kill, the bill. But while NOM stood in the background, a coalition of African-American conservative groups formed to sway religious Marylanders to appeal to the delegates in their districts to vote against same-sex marriage. The coalition developed an effective narrative, appealing to the black community’s perceived ownership of “civil rights.” Calls were made. E-mails were sent. Conservative lawmakers joined in, some going so far as to enlist parishes to pressure gay-marriage-supporting delegates in their churches to change their votes. And it worked.

Maryland’s marriage story is a testament that nothing should be underestimated where gay marriage is concerned — even in a state like New York, where the fate of same-sex marriage has been reported by numerous media outlets to hinge on only one vote.

A not-so-done done deal

“Done deal” is a term many political observers initially used to describe Maryland’s effort to legalize same-sex marriage. The proposed bill, known as the “Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act,” passed the state Senate (25-21) on Feb. 24, and Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley had given his word he would sign it. But headlines from the first week in March began to reveal another story.

On March 4, Annapolis paper The Capital reported three days of delays and confusion over the bill, despite the governor’s urging to pass it. The following Friday, The Baltimore Sun announced that the bill never made it out of the House Judiciary Committee for an expected dearth in “yes” votes. And as with the claims currently surfacing in New York, Maryland House leaders told the Baltimore Sun they believed the bill was just one vote shy of passage.

The coalition

With his eye on Washington, D.C.’s 2010 legalization of same-sex marriage through a city council vote, Robert Broadus says he had been expecting a similar effort to rise up in Maryland, especially with former Vice President Dick Cheney coming out in 2009 in support of gay marriage at the state level.

Broadus, a computer programmer from Clinton, Md., in Prince George’s County, who is running for U.S. Senate in 2012 (following a failed bid for a U.S. House seat in 2010), started a political action committee called Protect Marriage Maryland (PMM), and a subsequent anti-gay-marriage e-mail campaign. The group comprised religious organizations and conservative African-American groups, such as the Frederick Douglass Foundation (FDF), a faith-based public policy organization that focuses on “the sanctity of human life and the protection of traditional marriage,” of which Broadus is a member. They formed in January, around the time when NOM posted a blog promising a big fight against gay marriage in Maryland.

Part of Broadus’ message – which in a matter of weeks found its way into church leaders’ sermons and church bulletins, according to several members involved with the coalition – focused on the civil rights movement, and the fact that it was being hijacked by the gay community.

“The claims the gays were making were completely without warrant, claiming discrimination, where we in the black community have genuinely experienced discrimination,” Broadus told The American Independent.

And so began a massive Web distribution of pamphlets, fliers and speeches.

Broadus said he told Maryland residents and religious groups they would be charged with hate crimes for teaching what the Bible says about marriage or for not allowing a same sex-ceremony in their church. In Massachusetts, parents aren’t allowed to pull their kids out of school if gay issues are taught in class, he said.

“The number one thing that stopped [the gay marriage vote] from happening is because of churches,” Broadus said, “especially in the black church.” He went on to say that gay marriage is destructive to the African-American race.

“It would have been like if a black man were to join the Klan,” he said. “I see abortion, crowding in the inner city and gay marriage all part of a bigger picture to tell black people, ‘You’re not verified, wanted here.’”

Del. Emmett C. Burns, Jr. (D-Baltimore County), one of the more outspoken delegates against the same-sex marriage bill, embraced the civil rights argument and took it to churches.

“Juxtaposing gay rights with civil rights is a terrible application, if not hinging on fraud,” Burns told TAI. “Civil rights has to do with race. Gay rights has to do with preference.”

Burns, who is also a pastor, said he spoke to members at the church he founded, the Rising Sun First Baptist Church in Woodlawn. He said he attributes the success of the opposition to providence. Though, he noted, “Things started working strangely with the opposition.”

Organize and defeat

A month before same-sex bill was killed, Ron Miller, a conservative writer and author from Huntingtown, Md., decided to head up a Maryland chapter of the Frederick Douglass Foundation, a faith-based public policy organization for conservative African-Americans whose policy positions center around “thsue sanctity of human life and the protection of traditional marriage.”

Miller told TAI he was pressured by national members like Broadus to found a local chapter, which he said is still in its developing stages.

“The Frederick Douglass Foundation supports traditional marriage not out of hate or homophobia,” Miller said. “Our official position is that marriage should be between one woman and one man. We believe in live and let live, but the definition of marriage should be left alone.”

Part of Broadus’ coalition, Miller said he was among many who contacted religious organizations, particularly those in Baltimore City and Prince George’s County, where African-Americans dominate the population by 64 percent and 65 percent, respectively, according to 2010 census figures.

Tim Johnson, chairman of the national FDF, told TAI that the timing of the Maryland chapter was purely coincidental to the timing of the marriage amendment, and both he and Miller gave credit to Protect Marriage Maryland for generating enough community opposition to begin swaying delegates who initially supported the bill.

“One of the things that really revolutionized this was social media,” Miller said. “People were connecting via Facebook, Twitter, e-mail. … The constituents kept calling. It was really amazing.”

Broadus told TAI that Protect Marriage Maryland received no money from NOM, despite floating rumors to the contrary. He also wouldn’t give the specific names of the churches that were contacted.

Neither would Del. Don H. Dwyer, Jr. (R-Anne Arundel County), who himself takes partial credit for halting the same-sex marriage vote.

The self-described “general in the general assembly” told TAI that he has spent the last eight years trying to change Maryland’s constitution to define marriage as only between a man and a woman, as he did in 2010, all the while fighting an ongoing battle against pro-gay-marriage efforts. He said he’s received death threats over his stance on same-sex marriage.

Dwyer refused to name which churches he was involved with, for fear of bringing them negative attention. “I look at what happened to those Prop 8 people,” he said, referring to an investigation that revealed the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had contributed hundreds of thousands of unreported dollars to support California’s anti-gay-marriage constitutional amendment, passed in 2008.

Dwyer told TAI he sent e-mails to various supporters and church leaders asking them to preach in opposition to the same-sex bill. One of the e-mails, sent from his House e-mail address and recently obtained by TAI, is dated Feb. 23, addressed to “colleagues,” and includes a letter to be mailed to religious leaders.

An excerpt from the letter reads:

Dear Supporters of Traditional Marriage,

Below are the Delegates who have sponsored the same sex marriage bills HB 55 and HB 175

Please call these Delegates to let them know that you oppose the bill. Some Delegates on the list have identified the church that they attend. Please consider contacting the church and asking if the church supports “changing the definition of marriage to include same sex relationships” and if not, would the church speak with the Delegate who is a member of the congregation in an attempt to influence a change of heart and a commitment not to vote for the bill.

Dwyer also included attachments and links to material produced and gathered by the Massachusetts-based anti-gay-marriage group MassResistance. One of the attachments was to a pamphlet promoting safe-sex practices among gay men, produced by the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts.

Referencing the attachments, Dwyer wrote: “Please Note: The effects of SSM and the Little Black Book are very disturbing but you must know what is being taught to children in public schools.”

Del. Tiffany Alston (D-Prince George’s County) was on Dwyer’s list. In early March, Alston was one of two delegates who skipped out on a vote in the Maryland House Judiciary Committee – a move that marked the beginning to the end of legalizing same sex marriage in Maryland this year. At the time Alston told the Washington Post:

“I had no idea what to do. I feel really strongly that people who love each other should be able to get married, no matter what their gender. But I also realize that that’s not my function here. I’m here to represent the 110,000 people back home, many of whom had called and e-mailed and said, ‘We don’t want that bill.’”

Del. Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery County), an openly gay delegate and part of the House gay and lesbian caucus, said she was too busy talking to colleagues and counting “yes” votes (which they were losing toward the end) to really focus on how the opposition was mobilizing behind House walls. But she did notice it.

“It was an organic response,” Mizeur said. “It was fear-based.”

While Mizeur said she was disappointed the House chose to recommit the same-sex marriage bill, she said it was better than having the bill go to vote and fail. This way it has a chance in 2012.

“It’s really important to remind folks that [same-sex marriage] doesn’t change anything about churches,” she said.Rather than forcing churches to marry gay couples, what the bill does, Mizeur said, is give gay couples protections “in the worst of times,” such as instances of illness or death.

“What is more Christian than allowing people to protect each other in times of tragedy?” she said.

Patrick Wojahn, chair of the board of directors of Maryland gay-rights group Equality Maryland, told TAI a goal for next year is to do better job reaching out to religious groups and presenting that side of the story.

Meanwhile, the jury on same-sex marriage is still out in Albany, as lawmakers continue to hash out details, as reporters continue to speculate why the vote has stalled for days, and as President Obama plans a fundraiser for gay rights supporters in New York City Thursday night. By that time, the state Senate could have voted on the bill. But nothing is certain.

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Sofia Resnick

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