ANNAPOLIS — Moving swiftly to stem potential damage to same-sex marriage legislation in Maryland, first lady Katie O’Malley said Friday she regretted her choice of words at a national conference when she said gay marriage legislation in the state failed last year because “there were some cowards that prevented it from passing.”
Her comments, which were first reported by The Associated Press on Thursday evening, were the talk of the statehouse Friday, as some lawmakers from both parties did not appreciate being referred to as cowards for their political views.
“I let my feelings get the better of me,” the first lady said in a statement. “I deeply respect that there are strongly held and differing views on marriage equality in Maryland, but hope that our state’s elected officials will come together to fairly address this important issue for our families and children.”
O’Malley gave a welcoming speech at the 24th National Conference on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Equality in Baltimore on Thursday night. Before a crowd, she talked about gay marriage legislation that passed the state Senate but stalled in the House of Delegates last year, when the measure was sent back to committee without a vote due to insufficient support.
She said the bill’s failure to advance “brought tears to my eyes when it happened.”
“We didn’t expect the things that happened to the House of Delegates to occur, but sadly they did, and there were some cowards that prevented it from passing,” O’Malley said.
It’s unclear how much damage may have been done by the remark.
Delegate Curt Anderson, a Democrat who chairs the Baltimore City delegation in Annapolis, described the comment as a distraction in a sensitive debate.
“I don’t think anybody on our delegation likes the comment, and they’re thankful that she has retracted it,” Anderson said.
Sen. Nathaniel McFadden, D-Baltimore, said he understood that the first lady takes the issue very seriously, and he believes her statement expressing regret will mend some fences. However, he noted that the comments were not helpful to drawing people who are on the fence.
“I think it’s going to cause a distraction,” McFadden said, “but in the final analysis, individuals will vote their conscience.”
Delegate Don Dwyer, an Anne Arundel County Republican who strongly opposes the legislation, said one Democratic lawmaker approached him Friday morning to sign on to his proposed constitutional amendment to define marriage as strictly between a man and woman. Dwyer said he believed the first lady’s remark has hurt the same-sex marriage bill’s chances.
“Obviously, they think it’s hurt them, too,” Dwyer said. “Otherwise, she wouldn’t have issued a retraction.”
Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, has made same-sex marriage legislation a priority this legislative session in what could be a very close vote in the House. His aides have worked carefully to draft legislation that will put an emphasis on protecting religious freedom in hopes of winning over not only a handful of delegates, but also members of the public. That’s because it’s widely believed a same-sex marriage bill, if passed, will be petitioned to the ballot for voters to decide in November.
In the first lady’s speech at the conference, she also focused on the importance of passing a bill for the sake of children who grow up in same-sex households, and she reiterated that point in her statement on Friday. The governor also has underscored the point.
During her speech Thursday night, O’Malley, who is a judge in Baltimore District Court, said she did not believe that religion should pay a role in the laws of the state.
“We’re all very diverse, and that’s what makes us so strong, but religion should never play a part in what the laws of our state are, and that’s what we’re trying to convey to religious leaders who are opponents of the bill that believe that for some reason — for some reason — religion has some role to play in this, and quite frankly we believe that it doesn’t,” the first lady said. “We believe that this is a civil rights issue — very, very much strongly believe in that.”
For the most part, Katie O’Malley, who keeps busy with her work as a judge, has avoided the political fray in Annapolis since her husband became governor in 2007. However, she does occasionally champion issues, such as reducing school bullying.
Her predecessor, Kendel Ehrlich, also ended up backtracking from a highly publicized comment she made at a domestic violence prevention conference, when she said she would “shoot” pop singer Britney Spears if she had the opportunity for sending a poor message to young girls. In 2003, she talked during a radio program about the need for “educating our women to get as much schooling as possible, to not become dependent on anyone else.”
A spokeswoman for Ehrlich at the time said she made “an inadvertent figure of speech.”