Moral Low Ground

Civil Liberties

‘The Moral High Ground’: Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley Signs Bill Legalizing Same-Sex Marriage

In a major civil rights victory, Maryland’s gay and lesbian couples won the right to wed today as the state’s governor signed a bill granting them marriage equality. But the measure comes with a caveat, and opponents have vowed to put the issue to a popular vote in this November’s election.

USA Today reports that Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, signed the measure into law on Thursday afternoon. Maryland now becomes the eighth U.S. state or territory (New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, the District of Columbia and the Squamish and Coquille Native American tribes) to grant marriage equality to all citizens.

The Maryland state Senate approved the same-sex marriage bill last week.

“All children deserve the opportunity to live in a loving, caring, committed and stable home, protected equally under the law,” Gov. O’Malley said following the Senate vote. “Maryland will now be able to protect individual civil marriage rights and religious freedom equally.”

But the law does not take effect until January 2013, and opponents have pledged to put the issue on the November ballot. Such a referendum was used to strip LGBT Californians of their marriage rights in 2008.

Still, Gov. O’Malley expressed his hope that Maryland voters would back equality and “dignity” for “every individual.”

“More so than equal rights, more so than fairness, more so than justice or injustice, the word that allowed us to move forward was really dignity: The dignity of every home, the dignity of a job, the dignity of work, the dignity of every family, the dignity of every individual,” he said. “When we succeed, if this goes to a referendum, I believe it will be because of that evolution of the public discourse.”

Leaving civil rights matters up to a popular vote is never a good idea. It is the very notion of the “tyranny of the majority” that often requires judicial or legislative correction of injustices such as the denial of equality based on gender, race, religion, national origin or, in this case, sexual orientation. If slavery or women’s suffrage would have been left up to a popular vote, blacks would have been in chains and women would have been disenfranchised for much longer than they were. And while some do not view gay rights as civil rights, history will surely look back upon those who would have denied LGBT Americans equality with the same incredulous scorn with which we now view those who supported and made excuses for slavery and opposed women’s suffrage.

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