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National Gay & Lesbian Taskforce

Baltimore, MD

Thanks very much,… and Darlene thank you for your kind introduction. Welcome to the Greatest City in America,… the original land of the free and home of the brave.

Baltimore as many of you may know, if you are students of history, is the original land of the free and the home of the brave. That place where in 1814 without even a federal government to back us up, a nations’ capital smoldering down the road, the people of Baltimore came together and defended our nation’s liberty. At least the great idea of what our nation’s liberty could mean. Against an overwhelming shock and awe force of its day.

A little known fact, but, 60% of the defenders at that birth of the Star Spangled banner, the defenders of Baltimore, were immigrants who were not even born in this country, and one out of five of them were black citizens, some of them free, many of them slaves, in a country that was still becoming, still evolving, that was still moving to that place of equal justice and freedom for all.

Baltimore and Maryland have a strong Revolutionary history; it is a history of leadership. From the earliest days, we have prided ourselves on setting an example around which our children might rally. And from time to time, an example around which other states rally. Our State was founded on certain principles, among them the dignity of every individual and also the unalienable right to religious freedom and liberty.

In fact, the very reason for this colony’s founding, for the State of Maryland’s founding was for religious liberty, was for the freedom of conscience. At the heart of religious liberty is respect for the freedom of individual conscience.

We have just begun our 2012 legislative session, and there is a common thread running through all of the issues that we are addressing, it is the thread of human dignity,… the dignity of every individual… the dignity of every family in our State.

Someone very recently asked me “what do you enjoy most about being governor”, and I thought for a second, and of course what immediately comes to mind sometimes when we’re facing difficult patches, I thought about all the things that are coming up on our horizon, choices and tradeoffs between cuts and revenues and other things that I don’t care to do; and then my heart returned to the hope I saw in the eyes of a little boy from the Piscataway Indian Nation… you know Maryland for the first time in 380 years recognized the native people of this place… it took 380 years and I’m sure that there are many who in the hindsight of history will say “why did it take them so long”, I think of the joy that I feel when I talk to a Mom or Dad who has returned to work, who has been helped by one of our one-stop centers, moving our people forward from unemployment to re-employment; I thought of the joy that I feel when I talk to a Mom or Dad who managed to save their home from this terrible wave of foreclosure because of the choices and the actions that we have taken here… Human dignity, the dignity of home, the dignity of work, the dignity of family, the dignity of every individual.

There is a common thread running through all of these issues… it is the dignity that says that discrimination on gender identity is wrong – and it is the dignity that says that passing a law to protect transgender Marylanders from employment, credit, and housing discrimination is the right thing to do.

It is the dignity of a free and diverse people who at the end of the day, all want the same thing for their children. For their children to be able to live in a loving and a caring and a stable home that is protected equally under the law.

Now, other states have already found a way to protect religious liberty, religious freedom and to protect rights equally. And it is time for Maryland to do the same and that’s why this week, we proposed a civil marriage law in the General Assembly of Maryland and we seek to get it done this year!

Now our bill has learned from the experience of other states. Our bill balances equal protection of individual rights with the important protection of religious liberty and religious freedom.

Maryland is the 7th state that was admitted to the union by ratifying the Constitution of the United States. We believe that with your help and with the hard work of the people throughout the State of Maryland, we can also be the 7th to pass a civil marriage equality law.

We have a broad coalition in Maryland – and that collation is growing. It includes this taskforce and let me share with you just a few of the groups involved: the Baltimore NAACP, the ACLU, Human Rights Campaign, the National Black Justice Coalition, SEIU 1199, the Family Equality Council, Catholics for Equality, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, Maryland Faith for Equality, the Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of Maryland, PFLAG, NOW, and Progressive Maryland and Equality Maryland – give yourselves all a round of applause.

CONCLUSION

In Maryland we are a people who believe very deeply in the dignity of every individual, and therefore we are a State that believes in equal rights under the law. And because of that, over the last five years:

  • Working together, we’ve protected the rights of same sex couples to ride together in an ambulance;
  • Working together, we’ve protected the rights of same sex couples to visit one another in the hospital;
  • We’ve protected the rights of same sex couples to make end-of-life decisions for a loved one;
  • Working together, we’ve protected the rights of same sex couples to jointly own property without being penalized; and
  • Working together, we’ve created new protections against discrimination in the workplace.

The great American Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote “Justice produces Justice, and injustice produces injustice.” I believe that this is also true of compassion; it is also true of understanding.

All of us gathered in this place today feel very passionately about this issue and feel passionately that others, that anyone, should not be treated unfairly under the law. Sometimes, in our empathy, that we feel with those that are treated unfairly – we respond to the sort of hurt of injustice, the inequality of our laws, with words of hurt rather than words of healing, rather than words of understanding, rather than with words of compassion.

For the greater good, for the social fabric that all of us share, and that our children will inherit… when this occasionally happens, we must also have the humility and the strength to apologize and to seek forgiveness and return to the belief that we all share in the dignity of every individual.

Laws matter, but words also matter. And if compassion and understanding and justice are what we want, then we must choose laws and we must choose words of compassion, understanding and justice. This year, if we work together, and if we choose wisely, we will achieve more progress for the enduring cause that all of us share, and that is the cause of equal rights, that is the cause of equal protection under the law, and that is the cause of dignity of every individual and the better future we prefer.

Thank you all very, very much for coming to Baltimore.

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