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The Marylanders for Marriage Equality Fundraiser in New York City on September 13, 2012 featured a number of high-profile gay men and lesbians with Maryland roots, including former Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman, who bears some responsibility for the homophobic re-election campaign of George W. Bush that used marriage equality as a wedge issue and sponsored numerous state-level Defense of Marriage Acts as a tactic to drive conservative voters to the polls.
As Julie Bolcer reports in The Advocate, the New York City fundraiser was organized to bring together both Marylanders and New Yorkers determined to advance marriage equality around the country.
The host committee for the event on September 13 included a mix of celebrities and prominent business figures identified with marriage equality, with Maryland governor Martin O'Malley as special guest.
Many of the cohosts boasted direct connections to Maryland, such as MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts, film director John Waters, actor Josh Charles, and former Republican National Committee chair Ken Mehlman, all natives of the state.
Others, such as New York City Council speaker Christine Quinn, hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, actress Julianne Moore, NHL star Sean Avery, and former first daughter Barbara Bush, contributed to the effort to pass marriage legislation in New York last year. That effort, which included the New Yorkers for Marriage Equality video series launched by the Human Rights Campaign, serves as a model for Maryland and other states.
Marriage equality advocates are expected to need between $5 million and $7 million to fund the campaign to uphold the state's civil marriage law, which Governor O'Malley signed in March, but which has been placed on hold pending the results of a ballot challenge in November.
Although recent polling has shown the state leaning in favor of equal marriage rights, opponents are expected to pour millions of dollars into the campaign in its final weeks. It is expected that they will attempt to exploit racial divisions, frighten parents with tales of how school children will be taught about same-sex marriage, and lie about an alleged erosion of religious liberty.
Mehlman's participation in the event is especially interesting, given his history with the Bush re-election campaign. On August 26, 2010, Mehlman came out publicly.
The reaction to his coming out was mixed. Some gay bloggers were frankly skeptical, criticizing him both for having remained closeted for so long and for having worked cynically and hypocritically against equal rights for glbtq people.
Other prominent gay figures, including screenwriter Dustin Lance Black and Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund CEO Chuck Wolfe, expressed support for Mehlman and urged him to become active in the struggle for equality.
The newly out Mehlman first became involved in the gay rights struggle by lobbying in favor of the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. He is credited with convincing several Republican senators to vote in favor of repeal.
Since then, Mehlman has been active in the marriage equality movement. In 2011, he played a key role in the passage of the law authorizing same-sex marriage in New York, where he raised money and lobbied Republican state senators to vote in favor of marriage equality. He told the legislators that "There's a strong Republican and conservative case to be made in favor of the right to marry."
In January 2012, Mehlman also published an op-ed in New Hampshire's largest newspaper urging the state's lawmakers to vote against a bill that would have repealed the state's marriage equality law. In March, lawmakers defeated the measure in the state House by a 211-116 margin, with 100 Republicans voting against it.
Mehlman recently told Chris Johnson of the Washington Blade, that the fight to defend Maryland's marriage equality law is personal. "Having grown up in Baltimore and with family still living there and in Bethesda, I am pleased to support the effort to permit civil marriage in Maryland."
He added, "This proposal enhances freedom and encourages fairness, while also safeguarding religious freedom."
Mehlman's campaign for equal rights is no doubt personal not simply because he is a native Marylander. Given his history of using anti-gay rhetoric and proposals as wedge issues, he no doubt feels the need to atone for his past actions and for the hypocrisy he exhibited as a closeted gay man working to deprive glbtq people of equal rights under the law.
In the video below, Mehlman explains why Republicans should support marriage equality.
In the following clip, John Waters speaks to the press covering the fundraiser.