Maryland becomes eighth state to legalize gay marriage

It passed the House last week and the Senate tonight, and the governor’s signature is a fait accompli:

maryland_gay_flagThe final vote by the state Senate ended a yearlong drama in Annapolis over the legislation, and marked the first time an East Coast state south of the Mason-Dixon line has supported gay nuptials…

Despite one of the largest Democratic majorities in any state legislature, backers of gay marriage in Maryland had to overcome fierce opposition from blocks of African American lawmakers and those with strong Catholic and evangelical views to cobble together coalitions big enough to pass both chambers.

The bill didn’t become viable until two more Democrats were elected to the Senate in 2010, which finally gave them the votes to move the bill out of committee. Next up: The inevitable popular referendum to see whether the law should be blocked. According to Ballotpedia, polls taken in early 2011 and 2012 show roughly 50 percent support for gay marriage in the state versus opposition in the low 40s. Much will depend on turnout, but the true significance of the referendum is that potentially it applies a bit more pressure to the Supreme Court to take this issue up constitutionally. That’s probably a done deal anyway thanks to the Ninth Circuit’s recent ruling on Prop 8, but if Maryland’s gay-marriage opponents win the referendum and gay rights activists sue to have it thrown out, that’ll be two cases in two different states in two different regions involving a question of majority rule pitted directly against minority rights. Hard for the Court to resist.

Via Mediaite, here’s Chris Christie squaring off with WaPo’s Jonathan Capehart this a.m. on “Morning Joe” over his veto of New Jersey’s gay marriage bill. They’re actually both wrong here, I think. First Capehart accuses Christie of letting a popular referendum determine the civil rights of a minority, but that’s not actually true. As I understand it, any potential referendum in New Jersey would seek to overturn Christie’s veto by asking simply whether gay marriage should now be legalized. That’s different from a referendum asking whether gay marriage should be banned. The former, if it fails, adds nothing to the state constitution, merely affirming Christie’s veto and the status quo unless and until there’s a legislative majority willing to change it. Whereas the latter, if it passed, would lock in a constitutional prohibition barring future legislative efforts until a popular majority overturned it. Christie’s wrong too, though, in claiming that Obama’s trying to have it both ways on gay marriage while he’s standing on principle by resolving to veto the gay-marriage bill when it gets to his desk. Christie’s trying to have it both ways too by consistently talking up the referendum as a way around him. He knows full well that it’s likely to pass if it happens — according to a poll taken a few weeks ago, the public supports gay marriage 54/35 — but he wants to keep his ducks in a row on social issues in case he ends up on the national GOP ticket someday. By supporting a referendum so effusively, he’s basically encouraging New Jerseyites to legalize gay marriage for him so that he doesn’t have to get his hands dirty doing so. Which, of course, makes the scolding from Capehart and others ironic. Christie’s not booting the issue to the public because he wants the majority to crush the minority’s rights, he’s booting it because he expects the majority will affirm the minority’s rights and thereby nullify his politically expedient veto.

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