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Katie O'Malley, the wife of Maryland governor Martin O'Malley, apologized and moved quickly to contain any political damage after saying the marriage equality bill failed in the state legislature last year because "there were some cowards that prevented it from passing."
The first lady made the comments Thursday evening in her welcome address to the 24th National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change in Baltimore. According to the Associated Press, she discussed the bill that passed the Senate for the first time last session but failed to come to a vote in the House of Delegates. Democrats control both chambers in Maryland.
"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," she said.
The remark rankled some lawmakers, although it remained unclear whether her words would become more than a momentary distraction and hurt the bill's prospects this year. Don Dwyer, a Republican delegate proposing a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, told the AP that a Democratic lawmaker approached him Friday morning to sign the amendment.
The first lady, who is a judge in Baltimore District Court, apologized in a statement Friday.
"I let my feelings get the better of me," she said. "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 is not alone in making controversial comments from the prominent post. According to the AP, her predecessor Kendel Ehrlich, wife of former governor Bob Ehrlich, had to retract comments to a domestic violence prevention conference about Britney Spears. The former first lady said that if presented with the opportunity she would "shoot" the singer for sending a negative message to young women.
Governor O'Malley, who has made marriage equality legislation one of his priorities this session, introduced a bill last week with stronger religious exemptions. The bill is scheduled to receive a hearing Tuesday in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, while same-sex marriage opponents plan to rally Monday evening in Annapolis. The governor spoke to the Creating Change conference on Sunday and told reporters afterward that his wife feels "very badly" for her comments, according to The Washington Post. The governor said that the couple planned to approach offended lawmakers in the upcoming days.
"Other states have found a way to protect religious liberty, religious freedom and to protect rights equally, and it is time for Maryland to do the same -- and that's why this week we proposed a civil marriage law in the General Assembly of Maryland and we seek to get it done this year," said the governor in his speech, according to a news release from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "Our bill balances equal protection of individual rights with the important protection of religious liberty and religious freedom. Maryland was the seventh state admitted to the union. We believe with your help and a lot of hard work, we will be the seventh state to pass a civil marriage equality law."
During his speech, the governor made an apparent reference to his wife's remarks with a warning about using "words of hurt rather than words of healing" when lobbying for same-sex marriage. He committed to working to pass the marriage equality bill this session and to supporting legislation that provides protections for transgender people, although the latter is not part of his legislative agenda, according to the The Baltimore Sun. Antitransgender discrimination received widespread attention last spring when Chrissy Lee Polis, a Maryland transgender woman, was brutally assaulted in an episode caught on video in a McDonald's that went viral.
The Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination Act passed the House of Delegates last year for the first time but failed to receive a vote in the Senate. The bill sparked controversy among transgender advocates by failing to include protections in public accommodations. This year's bill will include protections in public accommodations, according to the Baltimore City Paper, although the governor did not mention that category in his speech Sunday. Gender Rights Maryland, the organization working to pass the bill, reported that the governor said his omission was unintentional.
"We have just begun our 2012 legislative session, and if there is a common thread running through the issues that we are addressing, it is the thread of human dignity -- the dignity of every individual and every family in our state," said O'Malley in the speech, adding, "The dignity which says that discrimination based on gender identity is wrong -- and that passing a law to protect transgender Marylanders from employment, credit and housing discrimination is the right thing to do. The dignity of a free and diverse people who at the end of the day all want the same thing for their children: to live in a loving and caring and stable home that is protected equally under the law."
Maryland First Lady Apologizes for Calling Gay Marriage Opponents "Cowards"" >