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Richard Madaleno: Showing the Way on Marriage Equality
Comments () | Published February 7, 2012
Photograph by Stephen Voss.

He had to rethink his aspirations. He'd majored in Soviet studies and history at Syracuse with hopes of entering the CIA. But at the time, he learned, the CIA generally denied security clearance to gay applicants, who were seen as vulnerable to blackmail.

Madaleno had grown more interested in politics and was elected student-government president at Syracuse. Not yet open about being gay, he lived in fear of being exposed by the campus paper or radio station: "Every day, I'd walk to the newspaper stand where the Daily Orange was and I'd be nervous about it--would there be a story that day?"

He hated living that way and vowed that if he ever ran for elected office again, he'd be honest about his personal life. It was an easy promise to make because such an occurrence seemed unlikely. As a gay person, he figured the most he could hope for was to be a staff person to an elected official.

After earning a master's degree in public administration at Syracuse, he returned to Maryland in 1989 as a budget analyst for the Maryland General Assembly and later worked as a legislative analyst for then-Montgomery County executive Doug Duncan.

In 2001, having seen the procedures and personalities of the state legislature up close, he decided to run for a House of Delegates seat--and kept the vow he'd made to himself.

Though Baltimore delegate Maggie McIntosh had come out several months earlier--currently, there are seven openly gay House members--Madaleno was the first elected as an out gay person, thanking his partner among others in his campaign speeches.

He had told his parents he was gay only a few years earlier. His mother, Katherine, a vice president at a defense-contracting firm, took the news in stride. "Tell me something I don't know," she told her only child. His father, Richard, initially was devastated but has since become an accepting father--and "Pop Pop" to Katie and Jackson.

"I wrestle with this. When and how do you say to your child, 'There are a lot of people who don't like our family'?"

In 2006, after four years in the House, Madaleno decided to seek the Senate seat being vacated by Grosfeld, a spot once occupied by now-US representative Chris Van Hollen. By then, Madaleno had become so popular that he was the only Democrat to run for an open Maryland senate seat that year without a primary challenger.

Madaleno and Governor O'Malley have had many conversations over the years about Catholicism and marriage and justice and equality. When he took office in 2007, O'Malley believed that "civil unions" gave gay and lesbian couples adequate rights and was the consensus solution.

Madaleno worked to convince the governor that the concept of civil unions, while politically attractive, just didn't work. A civil union, he argued, is valid only in the state in which it's entered into, so companies that do multi-state business don't always provide benefits to spouses of employees in civil unions.

"It hasn't achieved what it was intended to do, and that is to provide the full range of benefits, just under a different title," he says. "There is no separate-but-equal solution here, as there never was on other issues in our history." Moreover, he says, a civil union is an inherently weaker structure, easier to get into and out of and lacking the sense of obligation, commitment, and stability that marriage provides.

Madaleno teased the governor: "I'd be happy for a civil union when you're ready to convert your marriage to a civil union. You're willing to grant me a lesser status than you enjoy under the law, so why don't you volunteer to have the same lesser status?"

O'Malley just smiled. But last summer the governor made the leap Madaleno had been pressing for. O'Malley watched his counterpart in New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo, successfully shepherd a same-sex-marriage bill through his state legislature. And O'Malley was struck by the groundswell of support for marriage equality in last year's session in Annapolis. He said in an interview that key to the evolution in his thinking was "the ripening of the issue in the public consciousness."

The governor also noted that he has several friends, such as Madaleno, who are gay and raising children, so he now views the issue "through the eyes of children of gay and lesbian parents." More than one-quarter of same-sex couples in Maryland are raising children, according to 2010 US Census figures.

"All of us want the same thing for our kids, that they grow up in a committed and stable home where they're protected equally under the law," O'Malley says. "We can't have one set of children enjoying lesser protection under the law because of the sexual orientation of their parents any more than we could for any other distinction."

In last year's session, some predominantly African-American churches mobilized to oppose same-sex marriage in the House. Though the bill allows religious groups to opt out of participating in or recognizing gay marriages, Maryland's Catholic bishops are among those working to head off passage again this year. In a heated exchange of letters last summer, former Baltimore archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien urged O'Malley, a devout Catholic, to reconsider promoting "a goal that so deeply conflicts with your faith."

Opponents of same-sex marriage fear that O'Malley's support will push the bill over the goal line this year. Should it pass, they've vowed to petition the new law to referendum, as the state constitution allows, giving Maryland voters the final say in November.

A poll in October by Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies showed the state to be evenly split on the subject, with 48 percent of Maryland voters favoring a law allowing same-sex marriages and 49 percent opposed.

Madaleno and Hodge, who met in 1999, had a wedding ceremony--though not an official one--in October 2001 at Bethesda's Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church, which Madaleno has long attended. Both wanted children, so they went through a ten-week seminar, "Maybe Baby," at Whitman-Walker Clinic that outlined options available to gay men and women considering parenthood.

Finding foreign adoptions more difficult for gay couples, they pursued domestic adoption and, Madaleno says, were open to a variety of options: "If you're a white couple who only wants a healthy white boy, complete with medical records of both parents, you can wait a very long time."

Through a local agency, Adoptions Together, they brought infant Katie home in 2003 and Jackson four years later.

They haven't yet discussed the debate over the status of their family with the children. Says Madaleno: "I wrestle with this. When and how do you say to your child, 'There are a lot of people who don't like our family'?"

Marriage license or no, Madaleno and Hodge are married in their own eyes and in the eyes of their children, who occasionally look at their parents' wedding album. "To me, we had a wedding," says Madaleno. "We had friends and family and stood up and made this commitment."

Hodge has always attended spouse events for members of the legislature--he was even invited to gatherings during the administration of Republican governor Bob Ehrlich, who opposed same-sex marriage.

Because Maryland now recognizes same-gender marriages performed in other places, the couple has thought about making theirs legal, either in Vermont or just over the border in DC, where a law permitting gay marriages went into effect in 2010. They joke that they could have another wedding ceremony and receive another whole set of gifts.

But all they really want is the license. And they're holding out for one from the state of Maryland.

This article appears in the February 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.

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Posted at 10:45 AM/ET, 02/07/2012 RSS | Print | Permalink | Comments () | Washingtonian.com Articles