This past week the Maryland Legislature has wrestled back and forth with the issue of same-sex marriage. For months gay marriage activists have boasted that there had been no real organized resistance to their redefinition campaign. The most surprising aspect of the battle was that last week an army of traditional marriage proponents appeared in Annapolis, MD. Even though this group had testified and lobbied for over 3 weeks with focus and passion, they obviously saved the best for last. During this past week over 30 different groups lobbied in shifts. None of them had received the memo that they were supposed to be the desperate underdogs. In fact they seemed just the opposite. They were as spirited and coordinated as Florida A&M’s (my father’s alma mater) marching band during halftime.
Both religious and secular groups prayed, lobbied or protested according to their own strategies and belief systems. The religiously based opposition was unique - Mormon, Pentecostal, Southern Baptist, Missionary Baptist, Roman Catholic, Presbyterians, and AME leaders busily moved from office to office. These spiritual leaders also represented a diversity in the size of their flocks and parachurch organizations. Churches ranged from 300 members to ministries shepherding over 20,000. The nationally known, mega-church pastors moved with an equalitarian unity among their smaller church colleagues. In addition, the Collective Banking Group (consisting of over 300 member churches), the Southern Baptist Convention of Maryland (with 500 churches), the Maryland Catholic Conference with over 300 churches), the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference’s Maryland chapter (with over 200 churches), and regional pastoral alliances from Frederick to the Eastern Shore were all represented.
I have never seen such unity in diversity. The Washington Post and other major papers emphasized the role of black clergy who wield special influence in heavily populated Prince George’s County and Baltimore County, while ignoring the racial and regional diversity of traditional marriage supporters. Post writers Colbert King and Jonathan CapeHeart, long on rhetoric and short on research, made illogical references to the narrow mindedness of black clergy leadership in the state. They seemingly failed to notice that the pro-traditional marriage proponents in Annapolis were not only black but also white and Hispanic.
This coalition could bring Democrats, Republicans and Independents together as a swing vote on a number of statewide social issues. The reason the tide turned so dramatically has to do with the cockiness and condescending tone of the gay marriage coalitions. In fact, the Maryland Democratic Party overplayed its hand on this bill last week. Governor O’Malley deployed staff to attempt to intimidate his fellow Democratic delegates into submission. The party threatened opposing party members with removal from leadership posts, taking away State House perks, and descending on them with personal calls from Russell Simmons, Hillary and Bill Clinton, and even representatives of the White House.
Savvy state representatives began to “get” the fact their party leadership was lying when they said no one really cared about gay marriage in their districts. They also realized that in a majorly Democratic state their upper leadership saw them as expendable lemmings like the popular misconception that the small rodents can be goaded into “mass suicide.” They wisely decided not to fall for celebrity phone calls and glitzy ad campaigns. The courageous black caucus had several Come-to-Jesus moments during the two weeks before the vote. The black Democratic reps quickly called their party leaders’ bluff. They realized that the party would not lose seats long term, but that ambitious black leaders could quickly become ex-state representatives. Therefore, during the two weeks before the floor debate, several members of the black caucus publicly switched from co-sponsoring the bill to opposing it.
On Friday the Maryland House of Delegates refused to pass the Civil Marriage Protection Act. They realized that the very name of the legislation was deceptive. The bill was not actually about protecting marriage, it was about redefining marriage to a completely different meaning. They realized their vote on this issue really mattered.
Del. Cheryl Glenn, of the Black Caucus, said during Friday’s floor debate, “The black churches -- since I've been here -- have never asked us for anything, that I can recall. They are asking now, ‘Don’t use the word marriage’.” She went on to say “my faith tells me” to vote against it. Delegate Emmett Burns, a black pastor, made a huge statement on the floor. He said the struggles of gays could not match the violence against blacks during the civil rights era.
“Show me your Selma, Ala.,” Rev. Burns said during the debate. He went on to say, “... [The bill] violates natural law. It always denies a child either a father or a mother. It promotes the homosexual lifestyle. It turns a moral wrong into a civil right. ... [If the bill passes] children will be taught that the homosexual lifestyle is on par with the heterosexual lifestyle.”
Friday's move by house leadership to send the same-sex marriage bill back to the state Senate shows that Maryland’s delegates have honored their sacred trust. Make no mistake, these men and women will be rewarded by positive recognition by their constituents and secure seats for years ahead.