So far, five American states have legalized gay marriage: four New England states - Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont - plus (more surprisingly) Iowa, heart of heartland America.
Why isn't Maryland, one of the nation's more progressive states, a member of this small but growing club?
The proximate reason is that the state judiciary has yet to rule in favor of gay marriage. In September 2007, the Maryland Court of Appeals, reversing an earlier decision by the Baltimore Circuit Court, ruled 4-3 to uphold the state's statutory ban on gay marriage.
The ultimate obstacle, however, is the state legislature, where the Democrats enjoy comfortable majorities in both chambers but conservative Democrats remain resistant. Demographically, they tend to be white legislators from the Eastern Shore, Western Maryland, parts of Southern Maryland and the Baltimore County suburbs, along with a significant contingent of African-American Democrats.
"African-Americans, who are a key part of the Democratic coalition, are much less supportive than many other Democratic voters," says American University political scientist and Chevy Chase councilman David Lublin, who is openly gay and co-owns a home with his partner. "There are many African-American legislators in the Democratic coalition, and while some are very supportive there are others who are prominent opponents.
"The same is true for many legislators with significant Orthodox Jewish populations."
The situation facing gay couples in Maryland is not as dismal as in other states. Recently, the state's gay community celebrated several smaller, incremental victories: Same-sex partners are now empowered to make end-of-life decisions for each other, and a few months ago a new law that took effect exempting same-sex couples who co-own their homes from the inheritance tax on their domiciles.
"One of the key things holding us back is legislative leadership in Annapolis, and that's particularly puzzling when no state legislator across the country has ever lost his or her office because of voting for marriage equality for gay Americans," says Scott Davenport, board president of Equality Maryland, the state's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organization. "We need to do more public education on the freedom to marry."
The law is the law, of course. But setting aside for a moment the strictly legal arguments for gay marriage, it also makes sense on an intrinsic, moral level.
For starters, like mixed-race marriages - something not long ago considered abhorrent by most Americans - gay marriage is an idea whose time has arrived. It also makes no sense for governments to prohibit two people who love each other from sharing their lives together and, yes, raising children; surely governments should be encouraging loving couples to marry, not live in the shadows or under the auspices of some half-measure of matrimony.
As for all the convenient counter-arguments, most are too silly to take seriously.
Gay marriage threatens the institution of marriage? There are high rates of divorce and ample infidelity among straight couples, and allowing homosexuals to marry would not affect that in any way. As a male political analyst in Washington once said to me, a busty blond is a greater threat to his marriage than two men living together.
Gay marriage and sex are unnatural? Well, given that oral and anal sex are practiced by many straight couples, by that logic many crimes against nature are being committed by straight couples. Oh, and there are hundreds of animal species that engage in homosexual congress, and even some species - like grouper fish and wrasses - that change sex mid-life.
The good news is that overall support for gay equality in America has steadily increased as older, more resistant voters are replaced by younger, more inclusive voters.
Political scientists Patrick Egan and Nathaniel Persily recently completed a study for which they collected survey responses from more than 50,000 Americans polled by CNN, Gallup and Pew about gay marriage between 1986 and 2009. According to their projections, by 2014 there will be majority support nationally for gay marriage. "While majority support does not always lead to movement in policy, the tone of the national debate would likely change significantly if support for gay marriage can no longer be written off as a minority viewpoint," they write.
Maryland should be leading rather than following the nation's inevitable path toward establishing gay marriage rights. And, much as it took the contributions of feminist men to facilitate the women's suffrage movement and colorblind white Americans to push for racial justice, equality will remain elusive until straight Marylanders stand up against discrimination and hate - and tell their legislators in Annapolis to do the same.
Thomas F. Schaller teaches political science at UMBC. His column appears regularly in The Baltimore Sun. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.