Same-sex marriage, medical marijuana becoming more acceptable

February 28, 2010|By Jean Marbella Jean.MARBELLA @baltsun.com

A couple of Black Fridays ago, I talked to two suburban moms who were out on that big shopping day after Thanksgiving and, like many that year, worried about affording Christmas presents for their kids. I assumed they were sisters or friends, but they corrected me - they were a couple.

Even among my own acquaintances, I still do a mental double-take - not "Oh, my God!" so much as "Hmm, interesting" - when a woman refers to her wife.

Some assumptions, I guess, only time fixes.

But that doesn't mean we shouldn't push the clock to move faster, or bend that arc of history whenever we can, however incrementally.

Last week in Annapolis was something of a study in how elected officials can get ahead of the culture or play catch-up with it, or perhaps just run alongside until the time presents an opening.

Early in the week, Attorney General Doug Gansler issued an opinion that same-sex marriages performed elsewhere would be recognized in Maryland. Then, on Friday, the House held a hearing on a medical marijuana bill that would expand on a much more limited measure enacted seven years ago.

Midway through a legislative session marked mostly by caution - given that it's an election year and a time of severe budgetary constraints - the week was bookended by two hot-button issues.

Gansler's opinion, for all the celebration and outcry that it generated, doesn't dramatically change the landscape overnight. Same-sex couples still can't marry in the state, but if they do so somewhere else, the state will recognize their certificate the same way it would a heterosexual couple's. The opinion is not law, but it serves as a guide to state agencies and is expected to confer certain property, inheritance and other spousal rights to married same-sex couples.

I'd like to see Maryland join the five other states and the District of Columbia in allowing same-sex marriage rather than simply accept their certificates. But for now, at least, Maryland doesn't seem quite ready to make that leap, after the Court of Appeals upheld the state's ban on gay marriage several years ago.

Times change, though, and I can't help but think someday we're going to wonder what the fuss was all about. I met some of the couples who were part of the lawsuit that made it to the appellate court, and surely this isn't news, but they were your next-door neighbors - among them a cop, a lawyer, a bus driver, a nurse, a military service member, churchgoers, parents.

Except that there was no guarantee that, should they give birth, grow ill or die, their partners would have the kind of legal standing that married couples do.

While polls still show that less than half of Americans support same-sex marriage, that is much more than 10 years or 20 years ago. And, those polls show, the support is strongest among young people - signaling, perhaps, that in the future, same-sex marriage will just be considered ... marriage.

Similarly, an ABC News/Washington Post poll found last month that 81 percent of those surveyed approve of legalizing marijuana for medical use. Even 13 years earlier, the pollsters said, support was running at 69 percent.

Again debunking its ultra-liberal blueness, Maryland isn't one of the 14 states to allow medical marijuana, although supporters are hopeful about bills introduced in both houses of the legislature this year. In 2003, the state dipped a toe in these waters, enacting a law that limited the penalties for getting caught with marijuana if you could prove you have a medical need for it.

"You've got to crawl before you can walk before you can jog before you can sprint," one of the measure's sponsors, Sen. David Brinkley, told The Sun at the time.

This year, the Frederick County Republican has introduced a bill to allow marijuana to be grown and dispensed for medicinal purposes. With one of the Senate's most progressive members, Jamie Raskin, a Montgomery County Democrat, as his co-sponsor, Brinkley said the bill's support spans "both ends of the political spectrum."

"We're trying to prove it's a nonpartisan issue," Brinkley said. "It's not a liberal-conservative issue."

With the Obama administration backing off from prosecuting medical marijuana cases - federal law still considers any use illegal - Brinkley thinks the time is right for Maryland to build on its 2003 law.

"It's the evolution," he said of the years-in-the-making change. "It can't happen as revolution all the time."

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