April 15, 2008

"Political Chicken" in Maryland Politics

That's the phrase Dan Furmansky, executive director of Equality Maryland, used to describe the tactics of leaders in the Maryland State Legislature in regards to several initiatives that were unsuccessful during the recently ended session. Furmansky was interviewed by Steve Charring for Baltimore OUTLoud where he gave a post-mortem on his organization's efforts during this legislative session.

SC: Many did not give marriage equality a chance to succeed in this session but thought transgender equality would. What went wrong?

DF: We’re incredibly disappointed that the transgender civil rights bill wasn’t given a chance. Equality Maryland approached the Governor personally about this legislation before session, and as a result of that conversation, the Governor asked the Maryland Commission on Human Relations to sponsor the measure as a departmental bill.
Unfortunately, Chairman Pete Hammen of the Health and Government Operations Committee prevented the Departmental bill from being filed in his committee, which is his prerogative as chair. Del. Hammen supports the measure, but said he felt the Governor hadn’t really "worked" the legislation and guaranteed its smooth sailing in the Senate, where it died last year. The Governor’s lack of support and the House and Senate games of political chicken are incredibly frustrating when we’re talking about civil rights.

SC: How can we ever expect to achieve marriage equality if Democrats, such as Conaway, who represent large lgbt constituencies take an unfavorable position?

DF: We have to look at someone like Del. Conaway, Jr. as a person who may be moved on the issue with enough contact with his constituents. I have seen legislators change dramatically from this sort of contact, so I hope his remarks were a wake-up call for your readers who lives in his district. Indeed, there are Democrats who don’t support marriage (or even domestic partnerships!), but we can’t give up on these individuals, or on fair-minded Republicans, because we’re seeing astounding movement towards marriage in Maryland.

How many states in the country saw marriage bills introduced this year with 49 co-sponsors? That’s nearly one-fourth of the legislature supporting marriage at the outset, not to mention the number of others who have committed to voting for the measure. Baltimore City, College Park, Kensington, and Takoma Party have passed pro-marriage resolutions. The House of Delegates is fertile ground for passing the bill, and with some more hard work, the Senate will be as well.

As Furmansky addresses in the balance of the interview, there are a handful of politicians in the legislature that have succeeded in blocking any substantial LGBT equality measures from even coming to the floor for debate. These power brokers need to be educated or defeated before there is significant legal progress for the LGBT community in Maryland.

There are many thousands of open minds and open hearts in my state who would accept and embrace such legislation and many lives that would be positively impacted by that happening.

If you live in or around Maryland, consider supporting Equality Maryland in their efforts to advocate for equality for LGBT people in the state.

You can read the rest of the interview here.

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