ANNAPOLIS – When Anne Kaiser informed delegates on the Health and Government Operations Committee that she was a lesbian who supported a bill establishing a domestic partner registry, her coming out had a different kind of impact because Kaiser was one of their colleagues.
Though the gay rights initiatives in the General Assembly ultimately failed, Delegate Kaiser, D-Montgomery, considered her personal gamble worth it for how far in the process the measures got and the support they garnered.
“If my coming out changed three or four votes this year, that’s three or four votes” to count on next year, Kaiser said, adding that the response from colleagues and constituents was very positive.
The House of Delegates passed the domestic partnership bill to give medical decision rights to registered partners and a hate crimes bill to extend protection for victims targeted by sexual orientation, but both measures were stalled or killed in the Senate.
Kaiser was disappointed, but not discouraged, by the outcome on the bills. Her coming out, she said, wasn’t about those bills, but about bringing a familiar face to gay rights issues for her colleagues.
“While on many levels I am impatient . . . ,” Kaiser said, “I do know that these things take time.”
Kaiser is the third openly gay lawmaker in the General Assembly – all in the House of Delegates – along with Richard Madaleno, D-Montgomery, and Maggie McIntosh, D-Baltimore.
Madaleno was surprised at how far the bills went this year. Considering that this was the first year for the partnership registry measure, its passage in the House was an enormous success that could indicate a cultural shift, Madaleno said.
“It’s always important to note that the law does not change the culture, the culture changes the law,” Madaleno said. “We’ve already had a change in our culture concerning marriage that goes well beyond just same-sex relationships.”
Early in the session, two bills invalidating same-sex marriages were defeated — a major victory for gay rights.
That early success gained momentum with Kaiser’s revelation, raising expectations for passing the registry and hate-crimes bills, Madaleno said.
Resistance to the bills in the Senate may be due to a lack of an openly gay senator, who could humanize the gay rights debate, Madaleno said.
“They know for a fact they’re sitting with gay people in the House,” Madaleno said. “Without that same condition in the Senate, you see one of the reasons for different outcomes.”
Kaiser’s professional coming out was more an emotional gamble than a political one, said Dan Furmansky, director of Equality Maryland, a gay civil rights organization.
She risked fellow legislators seeing her only as a lesbian lawmaker and not as the whole person she is, Furmansky said.
“It gives a real face to our community and it gives a voice to our community within the halls of Annapolis,” Furmansky said.
Despite the final outcome on these bills, Maryland’s gay legislators are optimistic about where this year’s smaller successes could take gay rights in future sessions.
“The session was an interesting roller coaster on these issues,” said Madaleno. “We (advocates) agreed that if at the end of the session that we were no worse off than the beginning, we would consider it a success.”