“Guardedly optimistic.” That’s how openly gay Maryland State Sen. Richard Madaleno (D) described his feeling about the posibility the state legislature will pass a marriage equality bill in its next 90-day session, which runs from January to mid-April of next year.
On a scale of 1 to 10, “we’re in the six, seven, eight range,” Madaleno told Gay Politics.
His optimism stems from a number of developments on Election Day 2010, some of which ran absolutely counter to national trends. In the Maryland Senate, Democrats actually expanded their majority to a 35-12 advantage over Republicans. And some Democrats who lost their seats did so in primary fights with more progressive challengers, many of whom vowed to be even stronger champions for marriage equality.
Madaleno also said a significant expansion in the number of gay and lesbian state legislators, from four to seven, could have a tremendous effect on fence-sitting colleagues. ”Just by having out people there to participate in the conversation fundamentally alters the discussion. The tenor of the conversation changes. It humanizes it,” Madaleno said.
The Maryland House of Delegates next year will include five out lesbians and one openly gay man. Madaleno is still the only out state senator.
A Washington Post poll last May found growing support in the state for legal marriage for same-sex couples. Among registered voters, 48 percent supported marriage equality and 43 percent were opposed. Governor Martin O’Malley has pledged to sign a bill if it reaches it desk.
“In the Senate, I’m confident we are where we have to be to end debate and pass a bill,” Madaleno said, adding that it was harder to predict how new Delegates in the House will vote.
Madaleno was the first openly gay person ever elected to the state legislature. First elected in 2002, he represents District 18, which includes some Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C.