Photo by ang.england on Flickr.

Last month, Maryland gave nearly 17,000 same-sex couples the right to marry. We applaud the legislature’s action and the support of Governor O’Malley in passing this law. But the hard work is not done.

This month, the opponents to Maryland’s same-sex marriage law are collecting signatures to force the issue to a referendum in November in the hopes of repealing the law.  We ask you to oppose the petition, but if the petition is successful, we hope that you will vote in favor of equal marriage in November.

We support the right of all couples to marry. Building stronger families helps us build a stronger region, and moreover, supporting equality is the right thing to do.

Mildred Loving, plaintiff in the landmark 1967 Loving v. Virginia case which struck down Virginia’s law against interracial marriage, said it best:

Not a day goes by that I don’t think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was the ‘wrong kind of person’ for me to marry. I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people’s religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people’s civil rights.

There are many reasons to support civil marriage for all. There’s the simple issue of fairness: the state should not give a privilege to one group of people and deny it to another.

Equal marriage is also the best way to give all Maryland families the financial and legal protections they need to build a life. Committed couples who are unable to marry must to make financial sacrifices that opposite-sex couples do not have to make.

A 2009 study by the New York Times revealed that a same-sex couple will spend $467,000 more than a comparable heterosexual couple throughout their lives, in extra taxes, health insurance when an employer doesn’t cover same-sex partners, and being ineligible for Social Security or pension benefits.

Without the ability to marry, committed gay and lesbian couples must set up a legal framework to reproduce the protections straight couples take for granted. These extra legal efforts are expensive and are only available to a small segment of the population.

Maryland State Delegate Mary Washington, the only openly gay black delegate in Maryland, makes it clear that there is a socioeconomic argument for gay marriage. “This is also about protecting our families, our poor and working-class people,” she told the Washington Post in February.

Beyond economic arguments, studies show that children do better with married parents than with unmarried parents. And we’ve seen how communities that create an intolerant atmosphere towards gays or any minority group can destroy the well-being of its youth, gay or straight.

Civil unions, even when they’re written to be “all-but-marriage,” do not grant the same rights and protections. A separate word is not an equal word in practice. In New Jersey, where civil unions were explicitly written to provide the same rights as marriage, a state commission has found that civil unions have not fulfilled their goal. The “second-class status” of relationship created in New Jersey is hard to understand and often requires much more legal work in order to grant couples similar protection to their opposite-sex counterparts.

A referendum is not the appropriate forum to decide the rights of any minority group. As founding father James Madison discussed, in a system of direct democracy there is “nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party ... [and such systems] have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property”. In contrast, representative democracy allows for more measured, cool considerations of issues affecting the rights of minorities.

While Greater Greater Washington traditionally writes most about the physical shape of our neighborhoods, such as transportation infrastructure and buildings, we care about all policies that affect our communities. Encouraging healthier families of all types and all gender mixes is a fundamental part of building healthy communities. On the flip side, discrimination affects all of our lives for a long time, and our cities, too.

Equal marriage is a necessary step to extend important protections under the law to all people. While Maryland’s legislature has taken a great step forward, it will likely come down to the citizens of the Free State to determine whether same-sex couples will retain the right to marry.

If you’re a Marylander, we encourage you to support equal marriage by not signing the petition to bring it to a referendum. And if a vote does occur, we ask you to vote to uphold the legislature’s equal marriage bill this November.

This is the official endorsement of Greater Greater Washington, written by one or more contributors. Active contributors and editors voted on endorsements, and any endorsement reflects a strong majority or greater in favor of endorsing (or, in this case, endorsing against) the initiative.