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Md. gay-rights group struggles after failure of marriage bill
Question of the Day
Maryland’s leading gay-rights organization is fighting to rebound from reported infighting and financial woes after the failure in this year’s General Assembly of a much-publicized bill to legalize same-sex marriage.
The board of directors of Equality Maryland fired its executive director, whom one board member publicly accused of mismanaging the nonprofit’s finances to the point that officials announced in late May the group could fold if it didn’t receive $2,000 in new donations by the end of June.
Officials said last week they have fulfilled the June fundraising goal but are still planning “month to month” as they try to boost fundraising and overcome criticism of their efforts during the legislative session.
The group plans to announce on Monday a strategic plan for the remainder of the year.
“We are getting through June, so now we’re working on establishing a more durable fundraising program,” said Patrick Wojahn, who serves on the board of the Equality Maryland Foundation, the group’s public education wing.
The group — founded in 1990 as “Free State Justice” — appeared headed for its finest hour in February, when the Senate passed a bill legalizing gay marriage with surprising ease, sending it to the traditionally more-liberal House.
However, support soon unraveled as several House Democrats wavered and at least two withdrew their support under heavy pressure from constituents.
Democratic leaders eventually sent the bill back to committee rather than have it lose in a floor vote, prompting some activists and officials to wonder if the group, which had led lobbying efforts to pass the bill, had done enough to solidify Democratic support — particularly in largely black districts in Baltimore and Prince George’s County.
“It just seemed as though they completely dropped the ball,” said Todd Eberly, acting director of the St. Mary’s College Center for the Study of Democracy, adding that the group seemed caught off guard by an “upstart movement” of Republicans and black-church leaders that surfaced during the House debate.
The group also suffered a more quiet defeat in the session’s final days when a bill fighting transgender discrimination failed to pass the Senate.
Equality Maryland officials have publicly defended their efforts, citing the narrow defeat on the gay marriage bill as progress. Prior to this year, the assembly had never cast a vote on gay marriage or civil unions.
Mr. Wojahn said the group was perhaps too focused on lobbying for the bill and neglected its fundraising responsibilities.
According to campaign finance records, the group donated more than $5,000 to state Democrats in the weeks before the session — mostly in $250 installments — giving to several legislators who were notably undecided on gay marriage or hailed from majority-black Baltimore districts where residents largely opposed the bill.
Mr. Butler has since resigned and is one of several board members and group officials to quit or be laid off since the executive director’s dismissal.
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About the Author
David Hill joined The Washington Times in February 2011 as a Maryland political reporter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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