O'Malley tells gay conference he backs their cause
Governor also expresses regret for 'cowards' remark
Executive Director Rea Carey, left, and Deputy Executive Director the Rev. Darlene Nipper of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force join Gov. Martin O'Malley on stage after he spoke in support of legalizing gay marriage in Maryland. O'Malley was Sunday's keynote speaker at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force: Creating Change conference, held at the Baltimore Hilton Convention Center. (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun / January 29, 2012)
Appearing before some 3,000 people at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force "Creating Change" conference at the Convention Center Hilton, the governor vowed to press for passage of a marriage equality bill in the General Assembly this year. He also struck a chord when he declared his support for a measure protecting transgender Marylanders from discrimination.
"In Maryland we are a people who believe very deeply in the dignity of every individual," O'Malley said at the closing day of the conference, which drew gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual advocates from all over the United States.
Maryland's first lady, Katie O'Malley, made a rare public gaffe at the conference Thursday in describing how similar legislation failed in Maryland last year.
"We didn't expect the things that happened to the House of Delegates to occur, but sadly they did, and there were some cowards that prevented it from passing," she told the conference — a statement for which she later apologized.
Without referring directly to his wife, the governor told the group Sunday that sometimes when people are confronted with injustice, "we respond with words of hurt rather than words of healing."
When that happens, he said, "we must also have the humility and strength to apologize and seek forgiveness. … We must choose laws and we must choose words of inclusiveness and compassion and justice."
After his speech, O'Malley acknowledged that he was referring to the comments made by the first lady, who he said "feels badly" about what she said.
"I love my wife very, very much, and for the last 20 years she has done the very difficult job of balancing a host of responsibilities and doing it very well," he said. "None of us speaks perfectly, and sometimes we make mistakes."
The governor said he believed the first lady, a District Court judge, would call some of the delegates who were offended by the comments to personally apologize.
But O'Malley was upbeat about the prospects for the legislation, telling reporters that "momentum's growing" and that this year there is a much broader coalition supporting the legislation, which he has adopted as part of his legislative agenda.
The governor also said he would deliver this week on his stated intent to propose a revenue measure to finance transportation projects — for which the most likely source would be additional taxes on gasoline. While O'Malley would not discuss details, he promised he would not simply call for more study.
"We've had 20 years of task forces and conversations," he said. "No other country's going to make these investments for us. No other state is going to make these investments for us."
O'Malley acknowledged that "it's a concern" that by proposing a transportation revenue measure on top of an increase in the "flush tax," which funds sewer projects, and a package of tax increases to balance the budget, he might be pushing the bounds of what's politically doable.
"There are a lot of factors in this I can't control," he said. "Part of the responsibility that leaders have is to make themselves vulnerable from time to time. … I volunteered for this job knowing that."
Sunday's event, however, gave O'Malley an opportunity to bask in the affection of an influential, Democratic-leaning constituency that wasn't focused on matters of spending and taxes. Organizers of the conference, who said it was their largest gathering in the group's 24 years, said they were delighted that a governor — especially one so committed to their cause — would address them.
"To have him stand up in front of our audience of 3,000 people here and many, many thousands who are watching this through social media and clearly state his support for equality is history-making," said Rea Carey, executive director of the gay-lesbian task force. "I was particularly pleased that he both talked about the need for protection of people based on our gender identity, as well as protections of our families through marriage equality."
For a group that was once on the fringes of American political life, the task force's conference attracted a cadre of high-powered speakers in addition to the governor and Katie O'Malley. Last week, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, NAACP President Ben Jealous and U.S. Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan also addressed the group.
"We've never had a governor, we've never had a first lady, we've never had a Cabinet secretary," said conference director Sue Hyde.