Despite rulings, 'gay marriage' debate not over in Md., Wash.

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Conservatives in Maryland and Washington state are learning that the battle about "gay marriage" is far from over, despite court rulings in their favor in the past 18 months.

In both states homosexual leaders are hoping their respective legislatures will do what the courts would not do — legalize "marriage" for same-sex couples. Both courts said the issue was for the legislative branch, and not the judicial branch, to decide.

Dan Furmansky, executive director of the homosexual activist group Equality Maryland, told The Gazette news service in Maryland he is working to get moderate and conservative Democrats on board supporting "gay marriage." Maryland and Washington have Democratic-controlled legislatures and Democratic governors.

"I think that marriage equality will mirror every contentious social issue that the Democratic Party faces. This is a flashpoint issue," Furmansky said. "These elected officials are sent to Annapolis to make life better for all of their constituents, and they need to address the problems that same-sex couples face because they're treated like legal strangers."

The Maryland Court of Appeals — the highest court in the state — issued a ruling in September refusing to legalize "gay marriage."

Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said "gay marriage" is an issue "whose time has not yet come," but Del. Heather R. Mizeur, a Democrat and open homosexual, said the issue shouldn't be put on the backburner, either.

"The fundamental question in this debate is how do we get equal justice under the law," she told The Gazette. "There aren't many permutations to that answer."

In Washington state, where that state's Supreme Court ruled against "gay marriage" in July 2006, homosexual activists are pushing for additional legislation a mere five months after a new same-sex domestic partnerships law went into effect. The law grants homosexual couples some of the legal benefits of marriage.

"We hope to increase the protections available to gay and lesbian families in Washington state," Josh Friedes, advocacy director of Equal Rights Washington, told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. "We recognize that we are not at the point were we can pass the marriage bill. In the interim, while we continue the dialogue about marriage, we do believe it is possible to increase the rights."

Additionally, supporters of "gay marriage" say that with an election approaching, they will work to put legislators in office who are more favorable to the issue.

"The entire focus had been on the courts," Washington state Sen. Ed Murray, an open homosexual, told the Seattle newspaper. "We have yet to go through an election cycle where we talk to legislators and raise money for legislators around the issue of marriage."

Expanding the domestic partnerships bill, Murray said, would be another step toward "gay marriage."

Meanwhile, an election in Washington state between Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire and Republican Dino Rossi — who Gregoire defeated in a recount after the 2004 election — could impact the issue. Rossi opposes "gay marriage." Gregoire signed the domestic partnerships bill and previously said she opposed "gay marriage" but has not said as such recently. Asked her views on the issue recently, she said, "I do not believe the state should discriminate against any citizen."