Gov. Martin O'Malley

First lady called opponents of equality ‘cowards’

BRIAN WITTE  |  Associated Press

BALTIMORE — Gov. Martin O’Malley sought to smooth over any raw feelings in Annapolis after his wife referred to opponents of gay marriage as “cowards,” saying Sunday that words of compassion, understanding and justice are needed in the debate.

O’Malley, a Democrat who has made same-sex marriage legislation a priority this year, closed out his remarks at the 24th National Conference on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Equality by underscoring the need for using compassionate rhetoric. The governor said it’s important not to let passionate views prompt people to use “words of hurt, rather than words of healing.”

“Laws matter, but words also matter, and if compassion and understanding and justice are what we want, then we must choose laws and we must choose words of compassion, understanding and of justice,” O’Malley said.

First Lady Katie O’Malley, while giving a welcoming speech at the conference on Thursday night, said “there were some cowards that prevented it from passing” in a reference to last year’s failure of gay marriage legislation. She issued a statement Friday morning saying she regretted the comment, which was not received well by some lawmakers in Annapolis the next day.

A same-sex marriage bill passed the state Senate last year, but stalled in the House of Delegates.

O’Malley, speaking to reporters after his speech, confirmed that his remarks were made with his wife’s comments in mind.

“I love my wife very, very much, and for the last 20 years she has done the very difficult job of balancing a host of responsibilities and doing it very, very well, and none of us speak perfectly, and sometimes we make mistakes, and she’s had the humility and the strength to apologize for the mistake that she made in her choice of words,” O’Malley said.

The governor also said he thinks his wife, who is a Baltimore District Court judge, feels “very badly” about the comment.

Despite the controversy, the governor, who has reshaped the bill this year to more carefully address concerns about religious freedom, said he believes momentum is growing for the legislation.

“I think there is a much broader coalition in support this year,” O’Malley said. “I think as we progress, more and more people appreciate that the protection of individual rights and the protection of religious freedom are intertwined, and they are part of the effort that all of us share to reflect in our laws a more perfect union.”

A rally of people who oppose same-sex marriage is scheduled for Monday in Annapolis. A hearing on the legislation is scheduled for Tuesday.