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
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