Md. Gov., First Lady, Applied Pressure on Black Democrats to Pass Gay Marriage Bill

The Maryland Assembly passed a bill on Friday that would legalize same-sex marriage by a vote of 71-67.

Prior to Friday's vote, First Lady Katie O'Malley made a comment that seemed designed to put pressure on the state's black Democratic delegates.

While addressing the 24th annual Conference on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Equality on Thursday morning, the first lady made some forceful comments regarding last year's failed attempt to pass a similar bill.

"There were some cowards that prevented it from passing," she remarked.

As first reported by The Washington Post, the comments were not part of her prepared remarks.

"We all want the same thing for our kids," she says in the prepared remarks. "We all want our children to live in loving, stable, committed households that are protected equally under the law. No child should be punished because he or she happens to love in a state that doesn't recognize the love that his or her parents share. It's about equal rights for everyone, no matter who they are, or who they love."

The "cowards," the first lady was referring to are thought to be members of the Assembly's Black Caucus.

"I know for a fact that Gov. O'Malley was at the Capital twisting arms Friday morning," said a Maryland House of Delegate legislative aide who asked not to be identified. "Gov. O'Malley was working Delegate [Carolyn] Howard over pretty hard. He really needs her vote if same-sex marriage is going to pass."

However, an aide in Delegate Howard's office indicated she would be voting "no," prior to the vote.

When asked if the governor is apply pressure to members of the Black Caucus and other delegates, the aide responded, "Yes, he's twisting a lot of arms today."

The issue of same-sex marriage has long been a point of contention with Black ministers and the predominantly black congregations they lead.

For the most part, African-American congregations have taken a literal and conservative biblical stance on homosexuality, believing it is a sin and not aligned with God's will. Plus, for all of the struggles African-Americans have endured in fighting for civil rights over the past five decades, many take issue with the fact that homosexual activists compare their struggles to that of the black community.

"It's a very sensitive subject in the black community," Ezekiel Jackson, a political organizer for the 1199 Service Employees International Union in Maryland, told The New York Times. "The culture is different."

But now some leaders in the black religious community are putting pressure on those who have been speaking against homosexuality in the church.

"I've seen a big change over the last few years," said Pastor Ralph White who leads a large church in Tennessee. "Other black pastors who are in tight with the Democratic Party leaders are telling the rest of us to lay off the gay marriage issue so legislators in the black community can vote with the party. Personally, I think they need to vote with the Bible."

Recent polls in Maryland are also highlighting the distance between blacks and white Democrats. A Jan. 30 Washington Post poll found that 71 percent of white respondents supported same-sex marriage and 24 percent opposed it. Among blacks, 41 percent supported the measure while 53 percent were opposed to same-sex marriage.

Pastor Joel Peebles of Jericho City of Praise, a large black church in Prince George's County also highlighted the importance of this vote in the same New York Times article.

"The black community is watching with a great deal of concern regarding how our legislators vote on this bill. Their decision will be strongly in the minds of the voters when they go to the polls."

Currently six states, plus the District of Columbia, have legalized same-sex marriage. Maryland will be the seventh state when the law take effect in June of this year.

New Jersey passed a same-sex marriage bill on Thursday, however Gov. Chris Christie has indicated he will veto the bill.

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