(WB) Longtime Maryland state Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller, who LGBT activists say played an important role in passing LGBT rights legislation despite his social conservative leanings, announced on Thursday that he was stepping down as Senate president.
Miller, 76, has served as leader of the state Senate for a record 32 years, becoming the nation’s longest serving state Senate leader. He cited his battle with prostate cancer as the reason for stepping down, but said he would retain his Senate seat representing parts of Prince George’s, Calvert and Charles Counties.
Democrats hold a lopsided 32-15 seat majority in the state Senate. They voted unanimously this week to recommend that state Sen. Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) be selected as Miller’s replacement. Ferguson, 36, an attorney, is considered a strong supporter of LGBT rights.
“In his tenure as Senate president, Miller influenced every major policy change in the state, from improving the health of the Chesapeake Bay, legalizing casinos, banning the death penalty and enacting some of the nation’s strictest gun laws,” the Baltimore Sun reported on Thursday.
The Sun and LGBT activists in Maryland have pointed out that as a devout Roman Catholic, Miller announced he would vote against a bill to legalize same-sex marriage, which came before the Maryland General Assembly in early 2012. But activists note that Miller agreed not to use the authority he had to prevent the bill from reaching the Senate floor for a vote, where he knew supporters had the votes to pass it.
According to the Sun, he also worked to prevent a potential filibuster against the bill, which opponents were considering.
After the bill passed in both houses of the legislature, Miller attended a ceremony at the State Capitol building in Annapolis in March 2012 where then-Gov. Martin O’Malley signed the bill into law.
His decision to attend the bill signing ceremony came at a time when opponents of the bill succeeded in gathering the required number of petition signatures to place the bill on the November ballot in a referendum to allow voters to decide whether or not same-sex marriage should be legalized in the state.
Miller took the further step before the November election to announce he would be voting in favor of same-sex marriage. In the midst of the 2012 presidential election when President Obama announced during his re-election campaign that he supported marriage equality, Maryland voters approved the same-sex marriage bill.
Two years later, in 2014, Miller came out in support of a bill to ban discrimination based on gender identity that transgender activists had been pushing for several years. Dana Beyer, who at the time was executive director of the statewide transgender rights group Gender Rights Maryland, said Miller opposed trans rights legislation in past years.
“However, after doing battle with us for years, by the time marriage equality passed in 2012, he was open to moving trans equality forward,” Beyer told the Washington Blade on Thursday. “He not only allowed a floor vote in 2014, he whipped voted for us — we got seven more votes than marriage,” Beyer said. “And he always treated me respectfully.”
Added Beyer: “Senator Miller is not only a giant of Maryland politics, but of national import as well.”
Mark Procopio, executive director of the Maryland LGBT rights group Free State Justice, said Ferguson, who is expected to replace Miller as Senate president, has a strong overall voting record on LGBT issues. He said Ferguson this year was an “outspoken champion” during the appropriations process for increasing state funds for youth homelessness which was “big priority” for Free State Justice.
“We don’t take positions on elected offices or leadership posts in the state capital, but as a way of a public statement, we thank Senate President Miller for his years of service and leadership in the Chamber during which Maryland made great progress in advancing LGBTQ+ rights,” Procopio said in a statement.
“We wish Senator Ferguson the best if elected, and expect him to continue to advocate for and support Maryland’s LGBTQ+ community,” he said.