Today, March 1, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley will sign a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in The Free State, making it the eighth nationally to extend equal rights to gay and lesbian couples wishing to marry.
I have been very passionate about this battle since I covered the landmark ruling by Massachusetts Supreme Judicial court recognizing marriage equality as a constitutional right in 2004. I believe it is one of the most important civil rights issues of the day for people of all ages, but particularly for older adults in long term care who are vulnerable to many types of discrimination.
Maryland’s approval of same-sex marriage is a landmark civil liberties victory for my state and one long in the making.
However, passage of marriage equality in Maryland is only the beginning of the fight. Already, opponents of the law are gathering signatures to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot in November seeking to strip gay couples of the equal rights they just received.
In the past decade 31 states have elected to put the rights of a minority group – gays and lesbians — to a vote through constitutional referendums to ban same-sex marriage. In each case, the minority lost. But that is about to change.
I’m going to predict right now that Maryland, The Free State, is going to break that trend. Come November, Marylanders are going to vote for equal rights, not discrimination.
Why am I so optimistic? At Stateline.org I reported on or closely watched the battle over same-sex marriage in every state that has considered it (which is pretty much all 50). I worked at The Pew Research Center, whose polling arm provided some of the most accurate polling on American attitudes towards gay marriage. And the trend is irrefutably and undeniably moving towards acceptance of marriage equality.
Below are some eye-opening slides from Pew demonstrating this trend. Opposition to same-sex marriage has declined by nearly 20 points since 1996, when 65 percent of Americans opposed gay marriage and only 27 percent were in favor. Today, America is evenly divided with 46 percent in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage and 45 percent opposed.
The next slide provides an even more revealing look. Although support for same-sex marriage varies across demographic groups, the overall trend is the same – up. Even among Republicans and African Americans, who have been the most strongly opposed to gay marriage, acceptance is rapidly growing.
Obviously, this remains a polarizing issue and I realize some of ChangingAging’s readers may strongly disagree with me. It’s not my intent to offend readers, and I am reluctant to launch a debate over gay rights on this blog.
However, I cannot in conscience back away from this fight. Gay rights is an urgent issue for elders who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and I’m proud the culture change community is taking up the fight by providing LGBT sensitivity training and education for caregivers.
When it comes to marriage, the most important rights you receive have to do with the beginning of life and the end of life, which makes marriage equality an urgent issue for older gay couples.
Marriage provides the right to be with a loved one at their deathbed and to make decisions for them if they cannot. Marriage protects a surviving spouse from losing a home, losing death benefits or inheritance.
Most important, marriage is a right; a right to freely chose the person you love, the person you want to spend your life with and make your family.