GreenBeLT Pride Celebrates Marriage Equality
On March 1, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley signed into law a bill to legalize gay marriage, and Maryland becomes the eighth state in the U.S. to legalize gay marriage. That evening members of GreenBeLT Pride, an organization for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer people and their supporters in Greenbelt, gather at the New Deal Café for a celebration.
Alyson Miers: “I am just delighted that Maryland has joined the group of states that have marriage equality, and I think it is like a measure of being in the 21st century that we are going to have the freedom to marry. I’m really glad that my state has made that step already.”
When asked whether she is worried about the referendum which the opponents are organizing to overturn the law, Miers says that she is a little concerned but at the same time she is looking forward to the arguments, “Bring it on. Let’s go ahead and have this fight.” She is confident that “eventually it will come out on the right side.” I ask her how marriage is different from civil union, and she says, “I guess the argument could be made that civil unions are just as good, but then if it is the exact set of legal rights, then why not just call it marriage? If it’s the same thing, why not give it the same name, and if it’s not the same thing, then we don’t have equality.” She adds, “This business of insisting on a separate name for same-sex unions looks awful like the separate but equal policy. We’ve already seen that those things tend not to work. They tend not to be equal.”
Courtney Hollender (left) and Bethany Wilfert are relatively new residents of Greenbelt. Hollender has lived here for about two years, and Wilfert had been away at graduate school. They are excited about the passage of the law and plan to get married some time next year, after same-sex marriage becomes legal in 2013. When Hollender was lobbying for the law, she made a point to her representatives that if they pass this law they are invited to her wedding. These include Maryland Delegates Justin Ross, Anne Healey, Tawanna Gaines, and State Senator Paul Pinsky. “So they are going to get an invitation to our wedding because they helped to make this happen.” The wedding is tentatively set for fall 2013, “somewhere on the Chesapeake Bay.”
Michael Mangiapane says that he moved to Maryland about six years ago when the same-sex marriage bill seemed to never have a chance of getting passed. He says that when he started lobbying in 2006, he received support from Delegate Gaines and Senator Pinsky but not Delegates Ross and Healey and Governor O’Malley was not behind full equality either. “It’s good to see how much things have changed in the past couple of years.” He says the law will offer protections to him and his boyfriend if they decide to get married, but he also adds that because he is a federal worker and the Defense of Marriage Act is still valid, there are still restrictions in areas such as medical and life insurances, hospital visit rights, and immigration. However, he is hopeful, “as more federal workers, especially in this area, have the rights to be able to get married, that’s going to put pressure on the Congress and the Obama administration to actually get rid of DOMA finally.” I ask for his impressions of Greenbelt in this respect, and he says that generally Greenbelt is friendly to same-sex couples, he feels comfortable with his boyfriend, and he knows same-sex couples moving here because the city is open and friendly.
Kris White: “I’m just very happy that this happened today, I’ve been waiting for years, years, and years for marriage equality. I think it makes sense. I’m sure it will go to referendum so that’s the next battle. I’m hoping that when we get past that, we can finally go forward and have some marriages in the state. It’s taken a long time. I’m glad it’s finally within sight at least now.”
I ask her personal experiences living in Greenbelt, and she says that when she and her partner moved into a GHI home 21 years ago, there were some comments made to them, “Some older people when we first moved in would say, oh it’s a family community. I said I know and that’s why we moved here and we want our family to be living in this town. But that was back then. Within a few years of that time, we really didn’t experience any more of that. People got to know us and got used to it.” She talks about her experience marching in last year’s Labor Day parade where GreenBeLT Pride received a great deal of support from the community, “That was very touching.”
Margaret McHail (left) and Barbara Bastow just came back from Annapolis after taking part in the signing ceremony and the party afterward in the Governor’s Mansion. They live in Bowie and have been married in D.C. since January 2011. McHail describes her experience earlier today: “I haven’t experienced that much joy—just everyone thrilled, thrilled—except for the day we got married. That’s how happy people were. And everybody was cheering and waving to each other from across the room, and the party was the same way and people started singing, ‘Going to the chapel and we’re gonna get married.’ We were singing that song in the Governor’s Mansion and there must have been about 50 people singing that song. Everybody was just so happy. And the Governor and the First Lady were out there and they were part of the joy. They were grinning from ear to ear. It was great.” McHail adds that when they were married they asked people to donate to Maryland Equality and she helped to organize Lobby Night in District 23.
Regarding the referendum, she says, “I know we have a lot of work to do. It’s going to be a long, hot summer.” She adds that “on this issue of gay marriage, the ground is shifting faster than any social change that our society has experienced,” and she tells me that a conservative estimate is that between now and the time of the election in November, the supporters of gay marriage can gain five percentage points. “To me it’s like the waves of the ocean. You stand at the beach and you watch these waves come in. There is no way you can stop them. I think that’s the way justice is. We might have a setback, we have had many already, we’ll have more ahead of us, but the waves will keep on coming. I do believe justice does prevail in the end.”
Frank DeBernardo is one of the founders of GreenBeLT Pride: “I’m really thrilled that the bill passed.” He tells that he works professionally for a Catholic organization that works for equality and justice for LGBT people and they worked hard to get this bill passed. As Catholic, he is delighted that a Catholic governor signed it. “As a Catholic person, I’m just happy that people have stood up for the dignity and equality of all people in our state.”
He says that he has lived in Greenbelt for almost eight years and he has found it to be a very welcoming place for lesbian and gay people. “During my first year here, I noticed a lot of bumper stickers pro gay but I was not meeting gay and lesbian people. So at the end of that first year, I called a meeting to organize a celebration of lesbian and gay pride in Greenbelt during June, which is gay pride month, and I was hoping three or four people would show up. We had 15 people at that first meeting. And we organized an event, actually right here in this café, that 75 people showed up for.” He says that the organizers were amazed by the turnout and went ahead to form GreenBeLT Pride, “Our motto is ‘You can’t spell Greenbelt without GBLT.’”
He says that the group has gotten an “incredibly good reception from all people here,” and many times the city has invited the group to partake in city events as GreenBeLT Pride members. “Last year, at Labor Day, during the festival parade, it became known that there was going to be an anti-marriage equality group in the parade. So a call went out to the people to join GreenBeLT Pride’s contingent in the parade. Usually when we are in the parade, we have about 8 to 12 people. Last year, we had well over 100 by the end of the march. People kept joining the contingent as the parade was passing. That was 100 people in the contingent but there were so many more on the sidelines holding posters and clapping and applauding for us. So it’s been a good reception here in Greenbelt.”
I ask his opinion regarding Junior Miss Greenbelt, Sarah Crank’s comments against gay marriage. DeBernardo says that he went to testify in Annapolis and was there when Crank testified. He did not know she was Junior Miss Greenbelt at the time but remembered the unusual name Crank. “I’m a real advocate of free speech and open discussion, and as long as she didn’t—and I don’t recall her representing herself as Junior Miss Greenbelt—I don’t have any problem with her expressing her point of view… I do have a problem of people under mature age of 18 testifying publicly both for and against marriage equality. Even the people for marriage equality often had children testifying. I don’t like that. I don’t like children being used politically.”
Regarding the Catholic church’s position against adoption by same-sex couples, DeBernardo says, “It really makes no sense at all. Every scientific study shows that children raised in homes that are headed by same-sex couples are wonderfully prepared for life in the same way that children in homes headed by two different gender parents are. We have to rely on that kind of evidence rather than prejudice to make decisions about care for children.”