Saqib Ali: Same-sex marriage and naked political calculations
Last November when Californians voted to approve the odious Proposition 8, it seemed like a very heavy blow indeed had been landed against the decades-old movement to legalize same-sex marriage.
After all, people thought, if voters in the liberal bastion of California overturned a previous court ruling allowing same-sex marriage, it would show decisively that country was not ready for marriage-equality.
And to a degree they were right. Proposition 8 was probably the single biggest electoral setback in the history of the gay rights movement. However Proposition 8's passage may have sown the seeds of its own demise. And I am hopeful that in the long run, it will be seen as a pyrrhic victory for opponents of equal rights.
A few months after Proposition 8, Iowa's Supreme Court stunned the nation by declaring the state's long-standing gay marriage ban unconstitutional by 7-0 vote. This was followed by dominoes falling in dramatic fashion within days in Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire. Impressively in each of those last three states, marriage-equality laws were passed by the state legislatures. For the first times in our nation's history, marriage-equality had earned the imprimatur of publicly elected bodies.
I remember watching those dominoes fall. With each domino, I sensed the pressure building to do the same in Maryland and wondered, "When will our turn come?"
It feels like the nature of the fight for equality has changed. It has gone from being a rather niche liberal issue to perhaps the most pressing civil rights issue of this generation. And marriage equality throughout the land now feels like an eventual inevitability.
I expect some day people will look back at this fight for equality like we now look back on oddly antiquated anti-miscegenation laws. I'm proud that I'll have stood on the right side of history: In support of full marital rights for same-sex couples.
My stance on this issue isn't politically expedient. I am the first Muslim in the legislature. Homosexuality is strictly forbidden in Islam. As such I have evinced much grief from my most conservative supporters.
But I recognize that I represent people of all faiths and no faith at all. If I tried to enforce religion by law — as in a theocracy — I would be doing a disservice to my both constituents and to my religion.
The next opportunity for Maryland to realize full marriage equality is in the 2010 annual legislative session.
Conventional wisdom suggests that votes are there to pass the equality bill through the House but maybe not the state Senate (although no one can be entirely certain).
Complicating this matter is that 2010 is an election year for the entire General Assembly, so it is likely the bill won't be voted on because many legislators want to avoid being recorded on a potentially controversial issue. Most informed advocates are hopeful for passage and enactment of the law by October 2011.
Undoubtedly, such nakedly political calculations will be cold comfort for the thousands of couples throughout our state who are denied the fundamental right to marry the person they choose. Unfortunately, however, these are necessary tactical compromises that must be made for the eventual, inevitable legislative victory.
Delegate Saqib Ali of North Potomac is a Democrat representing District 39 in north-central Montgomery County.