Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Vote is On!

Opponents of Maryland's same-sex marriage law on Tuesday turned in 113,000 signatures against the measure -- more than twice the number required to place the issue on the ballot in November, foreshadowing a fierce battle this fall over the definition of marriage in the state.

The Maryland Marriage Alliance, which organized the petition drive, said its extensive roll of signatures shows just how motivated Marylanders are to overturn the signature legislative achievement of Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley.

"People are upset; people are upset about the governor and his position," said Derek McCoy, executive director of the group and a pastor at Hope Christian Church in Beltsville. "This is not just a sampling. This is a very clear message."

The signatures must be verified by the State Board of Elections, but the surplus of names against gay nuptials all but ensures it will go before voters in the fall -- adding even more significance to a presidential election in which social issues received greater prominence after President Obama publicly endorsed same-sex matrimony.

And O'Malley, with national political aspirations of his own, banked much of his political clout on delivering results to liberal supporters on the social issue.

"There's still more work to be done and we are not taking anything for granted," said O'Malley spokeswoman Raquel Guillory. "Recent poll numbers indicate that more and more Marylanders support marriage equality and religious freedom."

A survey from liberal-leaning Public Policy Polling last week found 57 percent of Marylanders would vote in support of the gay marriage law. The poll found 55 percent of black voters would back gay nuptials.

If that were to prove true on Election Day, same-sex marriage likely would be cemented in Maryland law. The most resistance to same-sex matrimony in Maryland has come from black voters, particularly in Prince George's County and Baltimore, and rural areas.

McCoy said most of the signatures collected came from Baltimore County. More than 10,000 signatures were from Montgomery County, whose lawmakers largely pushed through the measure in the General Assembly this year.

Opponents of same-sex marriage say history is on their side, as voters who have decided the issue at the state level have rejected gay nuptials each of the 32 times they have weighed in on the issue.

In 2006, Virginia enshrined a law defining marriage as solely between a man and a woman. The District and seven other states, including Maryland, allow gay marriage.

Supporters of gay nuptials dismissed the initial batch of signatures as a sampling of the most vocal opponents of the law rather than a representation of mainstream voters.

"When the public at large has their say, we know we're going to win," said Del. Heather Mizeur, an openly gay Montgomery County lawmaker. "It's not hard to collect 56,000 signatures. We're having a little bit of a perfect storm coming together across the country and an evolving discussion on this issue. It will be different this time."

Petitions for a voter referendum require 55,736 valid signatures.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Did the President Really Shift Maryland's Attitudes?

from the Christian Post
A new Washington Post/ABC News Poll survey finds that the percentage of African-Americans who support gay marriage jumped almost 20 points after President Obama's announcement that he now backs same-sex marriage. One pastor doesn't believe the poll is representative of the nation's black Christians.

The Rev. Bill Owens, who leads the Coalition of African American Pastors, argues that opposition to same-sex marriage is steadfast and growing. "I know the poll is wrong," Owens told CP. "Very few black Christians I encounter support President's Obama's position on same-sex marriage. In fact, in a small poll conducted by our organization, 12 percent said they would not vote for President Obama again."

The new poll of 1,004 adults was released Wednesday and reveals that 59 percent of African-Americans say they back same-sex marriage, up from 41 percent in combined ABC/Post polls this spring and last summer. Also, 65 percent of African-Americans support Obama's new position.

Following Obama's announcement earlier this month that he believes same-sex couples should be able to get married, black pastors across the nation have expressed opposing views, with the more liberal and progressive Christian leaders embracing the president's new stance.

Dr. Brad Braxton, an academic African-American Baptist pastor who leads a church in Maryland, feels all Christians – especially black Christians – should fully embrace same-sex marriage.

In an interview with The Christian Post, Braxton made the case that when it comes to same-sex marriage and related sexual issues, the Scriptures are "a reliable place for us to have an encounter with God, but we should not substitute Scripture for God."

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Defining Riches Down...

from the Baltimore Sun:
The House of Delegates voted 77 to 60 this afternoon to increase income taxes on the top 14 percent of Marylanders, finishing up business left undone when lawmakers gridlocked at the end of the regular session in April. It still needs to be signed by Gov. Martin O'Malley, who introduced the legislation.

The measure completes a spending package that will undo a so-called Doomsday budget that would have cut into Democratic priorities like education and health care. The tax increase will hit roughly 300,000 taxpayers -- individuals who make more than $100,000 and joint filers who earn over $150,000.

Earlier in the day the House also approved a companion measure that shifts the teacher pension costs to the counties, a move that Republicans say will cause the counties to increase local taxes. It passed 86 to 51.

Arguing against the bill, House Republican leader Anthony O'Donnell said to the ruling Democrats: "We will fight you continuously on this issue. ... It is not that we are opposed to the good things that government can do. We know there is a balance that can be struck."

In his floor comments, O'Donnell acknowledged that passage was a foregone conclusion. "Of course we know what is going to happen with this vote, it is not a mystery."

The Senate still must receive the legislation, a procedural move, and then adjourn.

The special session went off as smoothly as the regular session was rough. The Senate wrapped up work in two days -- the House needed two and a half. There were no late nights. No early mornings. And tempers were calm.

A number of lawmakers commuted to Annapolis to keep the hotel costs down. Leaders estimated that the special session cost $20,000 a day -- mostly from expenses. Lawmakers are paid a set salary, and did not receive any financial bonus coming back into session.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Obama's Coming Out on Gay Marriage Aimed at Maryland?

from the Baltimore Sun
U.S. Rep. Barney Frank said Wednesday night that one place President Obama's change of position to open support of same-sex marriage could have a significant impact is Maryland.

Frank, a Massachusett Democrat who is perhaps the nation's best-known openly gay elected official, said on MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Show that Obama's stand could be important in the state because the issue of same-sex marriage bill is expected to be a referendum question on the ballot in November.

The Maryland General Assembly passed Gov. Martin O'Malley's bill extending civil marriage rights to same-sex couples in March, but opponents are expected to collect enough signatures to force a referendum.

Frank noted that Obama's former position -- favoring civil unions but opposing same-sex marriage -- was used by opponents in 2008 in their succesful effort of reject gay marriage at the polls in California in 2008. Now, Frank said, opponents will be unable to use Obama's words against same-sex marriage in Maryland.

Polls have shown that African-Americans, Obama's most loyal constituency, are less supportive of same-sex marriage rights than white voters. In Maryland, with one of the highest percentages of black voters in the country, the views of African-Americans could be especially pivotal.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Raising Taxes in Maryland... Good Idea?

from The Dagger From District 7 state Delegate Kathy Szeliga:
(Perry Hall) In response to the recent notification about a Special Session in Annapolis, Delegate Kathy Szeliga said, “No one is surprised to hear that the botched legislative session needs a do-over. The leadership in Annapolis is discussing how much and which taxes to raise on Maryland families.” The Doomsday Budget that passed increased state spending by $700 million and only included half the budget related bills. The two budget bills that did not pass include another $500 million in tax increases. Governor O’Malley is expected to call legislators back the week of May 14.

“While I am opposed to the continued increases in taxes coming from Annapolis, I am extremely upset about the latest proposal to increase income taxes that includes a penalty on working women.” Szeliga pointed to the plan to increase taxes on singles making $100,000 and married couples making $150,000. “This is blatantly unfair and focuses extra taxes on working women,” Szeliga pointed out. “We should be rewarding marriage and not over-taxing families where both spouses work.” Szeliga urges lawmakers to correct this problem before they get to Annapolis. She plans to introduce an amendment to the budget to remove what she calls the “marriage penalty” if necessary. “It’s ironic that we just spent two months debating same sex marriage in Annapolis and now the leadership wants to put a new tax on marriage!” Delegate Szeliga commented.

Delegate Kathy Szeliga concluded, “I’ve heard from hundreds of residents from Baltimore and Harford Counties all urging lawmakers to stop raising taxes. I will be carrying their message to Annapolis and hope other legislators are listening to their constituents too and will join me in resisting any additional taxes.”

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Progressives Rally to Demand Bigger Government

from the Baltimore Sun
When the state's leading Democrats gather for a fund-raising gala Monday evening in Greenbelt, they can expect to see members of the party's most liberal wing demonstrating outside.

The group Progressive Maryland will rally to urge Democratic lawmakers to vote for the income tax increase and other measures necessary to avoid the so-called Doomsday cuts that were left in the state budget for next year as a result of the General Assembly's failure to  pass those companion measures on the last night of the regular session that ended April 9.

That much the group can pretty well count on. Gov. Martin O'Malley on Friday issued a call for lawmakers to reconvene in Annapolis May 14, and he and legislative leaders appear to be on the same page regarding their determination to pass the measures needed to avoid cuts of more than $500 million to programs liberals generally support.

Where Progressive Maryland will have a harder sell is its call for the legislature to reopen the conference committee compromise reached on the last night of the session to reinstate a so-called "millionaire's tax" and close corporate loopholes.

Neither measure was included in the conference committee report, which House Speaker Michael E. Busch has said must be the starting point for action on the budget in the special session. Gov. Martin O'Malley has also said the agreement signed by House and Senate negotiators that night is the logical place to start.

Attempting to revive proposals that have been discarded already would likely bog down the Assembly in a session longer than two days -- something legislative leaders want to avoid.

But Progressive Maryland interim executive director Kate Planco Waybright said the group's members consider the millionaire's tax, which expired in 2010, and closing the so-called loopholes a priority.

Matt Verghese, a Democratic Party spokesman, said he expects a "very respectful" demonstration.

"We respect their right to demonstrate and influence policy makers," he said. "On the big issues, we all agree."

Verghese said the lineup of party heavyweights at the gala  includes O'Malley and U.S. Sens.  Barbara A. Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin. The guest speaker will be Bill Press, a syndicated talk show host on the Current Network. Verghese said the cost of tickets ranges from $250 for general admission to $25,000 to be a Platinum Sponsor.. (The donation limits for parties are higher than the ones for candidates under Maryland law.)

Waybright is expected to be one of the attendees, Verghese said.

The Progressive Maryland chief confirmed that she would be at the gala at Martin's Crosswinds. She said she doesn't plan to demonstrate inside the hall.