1199 Helps Strengthen Civil Rights in Maryland

January 1, 1970

The long struggle for civil rights in America took another step forward early this month when Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley signed a marriage equality bill into law.That law, recognizing the right of same-sex couples to marry, got crucial support from 1199SEIU members in the Maryland/DC region — a fact O’Malley highlighted in a reception for the bill’s supporters held just before the March 1 signing ceremony.At the reception, O’Malley publicly thanked John Reid, 1199’s Maryland/DC Executive Vice President, and all the members of the union for their work in making marriage equality a reality.“We’re proud to work in coalition with the progressive forces of Maryland,” Reid told the gathering. He noted that it was a broad and deep alliance of progressives that made real change possible.In press conferences and public forums and in testimony before lawmakers, 1199 members joined with religious and community allies to explain how the rights of same-sex couples are as fundamental as the rights of workers and all the rights Americans have fought for.1199 members who could not legally marry partners they loved spoke about the heartbreaking discrimination they faced without marriage equality — and about the life-changing impact the law would make. Read the story on 1199 member Alyssha Jacobs’ testimony last month.SEIU and 1199 have long been leaders in the labor movement in supporting gay and lesbian rights, so when the Maryland legislature first considered a marriage equality bill in 2011, 1199SEIU took action.The union’s Maryland/DC Division held an open discussion about the bill at a Delegates’ Assembly in early 2011. It featured speeches before the whole assembly and break-outs into small groups so everyone could speak their mind freely. Many people who’d opposed the measure were moved by the personal stories of gay and lesbian members and came away from the meeting strongly supportive of the bill.Unfortunately, the state legislature’s debate in 2011 proved less constructive and the measure was tabled until this year. Nevertheless, 1199’s commitment to the cause never wavered.It turns out this commitment is likely to be needed for a few more months. Opponents of marriage equality have the option to place a referendum repealing the law on the November ballot, and since the number of signatures needed is relatively small, it is likely the law will go before voters in the fall.At the moment, polls suggest that Maryland voters are just about evenly split on the issue. But if 1199 members can help spur the same kind of conversations it had within the union back in 2011, there is a very good chance they will help make history again.- See more at: http://www.1199seiu.org/1199_helps_strengthen_civil_rights_in_maryland#sthash.DOpCx9E7.dpuf