As increasing numbers of Americans come out in support of marriage equality, openly gay lawmakers are taking the lead in introducing marriage bills in their respective states--and on the eve of pivotal marriage votes such as today's in Maryland, their personal stories are making a difference.
The Associated Press reports that even though only 85 of America’s 7,382 state legislators are openly gay or lesbian, their stories and experiences are having a huge impact on their colleagues and constituencies regarding marriage. In Hawaii, openly gay House Majority leader Blake Oshiro was the primary sponsor of the legislation that eventually led to civil unions in February. Illinois passed a law legalizing civil unions at the end of November due to an initiative led by Senator David Koehler, who saw the issue “through the eyes of a father who has a gay child” and realized that his daughter who is gay “doesn’t have the same rights” as his daughters who are straight.
LGBT legislators are also at the forefront of other current marriage equality debates. In Colorado, two openly gay lawmakers are working together to push forward Senate Bill 172, which would extend protections to gay and lesbian couples such as inheritance, parenting protections, and the ability to make medical decisions. It is sponsored by Senator Pat Steadman and Representative Mark Ferrandino and is facing its first committee hearing this week. “The importance of this issue is that there are literally thousands of families in Colorado that currently do not have the equal protection of state law that are available to others,” said Steadman. In Rhode Island, openly gay House Speaker Gordon D. Fox says the legislature will take up the issue of marriage this week after a legislative break, but he is proceeding carefully. “I’m an old majority leader, so when I move things out, I make sure I have my votes. I want to lay all of that groundwork before I have a committee vote. I want to have everything done and we’ll move swiftly thereafter.”
In New York, openly gay Senator Tom Duane is making the case for marriage equality and preparing to sponsor a bill later this legislative session. He says his fellow Senators are definitely influenced by his own experience. “It’s more difficult for them to take for granted the right they have to marry when I don’t have it,” he told AP.
Finally, in Maryland, the Washington Post highlighted several openly gay legislators who are at the forefront of the state’s high-profile debate over marriage for gay and lesbian couples. The six openly gay lawmakers in the 141-member House of Delegates in particular have reached out to their colleagues through their personal stories. “We all come from different places and different perspectives and life experiences,” said Del. Luke Clippinger, who says he has had conversations with at least ten delegates.“On issues big and small, people want to hear from people who are directly affected.”
It's true that American attitudes toward LGBT equallity are highly influenced by personally knowing someone who is affected by the legislation, according to past research. The impact of LGBT lawmakers on the passage of marriage for gay and lesbian couples is evident in the way their stories can sway colleagues whose political opinions are undecided and lead to higher rates of acceptance. They can often evoke emotional reactions to a conversation in which non-LGBT lawmakers may otherwise be removed.
Shortly after the publication of the Post’s article, Delegate Peter Murphy came out as gay in an exclusive interview with the Washington Blade, bringing the total number of openly gay members in the Maryland House to seven. With the addition of state Senator Rich Madaleno, Maryland has a larger LGBT caucus in its legislature than any other state. “It’s still a courageous thing for public officials who are gay or lesbian to serve openly and honestly, so we applaud Delegate Murphy’s decision,” commented Denis Dison of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund.
GLAAD applauds Delegate Murphy's decision to come out and hopes his display of courage will make a positive difference in today's vote. We will continue to highlight the individual stories of politicians and citizens in the effort to achieve marriage equality.