FreeState Justice

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FreeState Justice (FSJ) is an American non-profit organization based in Baltimore, Maryland. It is the largest organization in Maryland whose activities focus on advocacy and education with regard to LGBT social and political movements, as well as pro bono legal services for low-income LGBT Marylanders. The organisation works to combine direct legal services with education and outreach, aiming to help the low-income LGBTQ community in Maryland receive fair treatment in the law and society.

FSJ was formed out of a merger in 2016 between Equality Maryland (which was originally founded in 1990 under the name FreeState Justice) and the FreeState Legal Project.

Before the merger

Equality Maryland

Equality Maryland (EQMD) was founded in 1990 under the original name of FreeState Justice, inspired by the Baltimore Justice Campaign that organized the successful amendment to the city's human rights law for gays and lesbians in 1988. In 2004, the organization was renamed Equality Maryland, following the style of Equality Federation|LGBTQ advocacy organizations in other states. Throughout its existence, Equality Maryland's primary focus was achieving legislative victories for the LGBTQ community with the Maryland General Assembly in Annapolis, Maryland|Annapolis.

Equality Maryland was responsible for the passage of:

  • In 2001, EQMD achieved a legislative victory with the passage of the Maryland Anti-Discrimination Act, which banned discrimination in Maryland on the basis of sexual orientation in the areas of housing, employment, lending, and public accommodations.
  • In 2002, the organization succeeded in securing the passage of a Baltimore City localordinance banning discrimination against individuals based on gender identity and expression.
  • In 2004, EQMD devoted resources toward the legal recognition of same-sex relationships. In partnership with the American Civil Liberties Union, it filed a lawsuit (Recognition of same-sex unions in Maryland#Conaway v. Deane .26 Polyak|Conaway v. Deane & Polyak) on behalf of nine couples and a widower to overturn the state ban on same-sex marriage.[1] After a victory for plaintiffs in January 2006, the state appealed the decision.[2] The Maryland Court of Appeals heard the case in December 2006; and in September 2007 it overruled the lower court's decision, leaving the statutory ban on same-sex marriage in place (see Same-sex marriage in Maryland).[3][4]
  • In 2005, the Maryland General Assembly passed two Equality Maryland-backed Bill (proposed law)|bills, which would afford unmarried opposite-sex and same-sex couples health care decision-making powers and hospital visiting rights involving their domestic partners, but the bills were vetoed by then-Governor Robert Ehrlich.[5][6]
  • In 2007, EQMD launched a statewide visibility campaign, Marylanders For Marriage, to increase public support for same-sex marriage.[7][8] The campaign, featuring the motto "Civil Marriage is a Civil rights|Civil Right," included the launch of a website, promotion at gay pride festivals and other events, and the distribution of yard signs and bumper stickers across the state.[8][9]
  • In 2007, EQMD supported a bill to prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity that had been introduced in the Maryland General Assembly. Despite EQMD's support, the bill was defeated in aSenate committee.[10]
  • In December 2009, EQMD prevented the implementation of a Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration policy that would have required transgender Marylanders to amend their birth certificates in order to update the gender section of their driver’s licenses.[11][12] Making such a change to a driver’s license would have then required going through the court system and having undergone gender reassignment genital reconstruction procedures.[13]
  • In 2010, EQMD's field team volunteers identified over 10,000 new supporters of Discriminationo of Sex, gender, and gender gender identity anti-discrimination protections and same-sex marriage throughout the state,[11][12] and its 2010 election cycle campaign helped to increase LGBT representation in the state legislature, electing seven openly LGBT Maryland House of Delegates|Delegates and Maryland Senate|Senators, and 73 of their 81 endorsed candidates.[11][14] Throughout 2010, EQMD increased its grassroots efforts with the launch of action teams across six counties, eventually leading to advances in LGBT rights in Maryland|LGBT rights and protections never before seen in Maryland's history.[11][12]
  • In January 2011, EQMD and LGBT rights supporters helped to introduce a same-sex marriage bill[15] for which the governor expressed his support.[16] In February 2011, the "Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act" was approved, 25-21, in the Maryland Senate,[17] but later failed to be voted on in the Maryland House of Delegates|House of Delegates.[18]
  • In January 2012, EQMD heightened its efforts to legalize Same-sex marriage in Maryland|same-sex marriage by joining a diverse coalition of supporters including Governor Martin O'Malley, 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, AFL–CIO|American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, Progressive Maryland, Human Rights Campaign, American Civil Liberties Union|ACLU of Maryland, Marylanders for Marriage Equality, and church leaders.[19][20]
  • In February 2012, the Maryland General Assembly approved the Civil Marriage Protection Act, and Governor O'Malley signed it into law on March 1, 2012. This new bill included more explicit legal protections for religious institutions, individuals and their programs.[21][22][23]
  • In June 2012, EQMD and other supporters submitted 109,313 valid signatures to the Secretary of State of Maryland|State Secretary,[24] more than the 55,736 required for a ballot in Maryland.[25]
  • In November 2012, in large part because of the work of EQMD, 52.4% of Maryland voters approved Maryland Question 6, legalizing same-sex marriage in Maryland from January 1, 2013. Before 2012, no state had passed passed marriage equality by popular vote.
  • In 2014, after years of efforts by EQMD and other organizations, the Maryland General Assembly passed the Fairness for All Marylanders Act, adding gender identity to the state's nondiscrimination laws. Following passage of the Fairness for All Marylanders Act, it was illegal to discriminate against transgender Marylanders in employment, housing, and access to public accommodations.

Following its successes in 2012 and 2014, however, Equality Maryland faced a significant decrease in funding, leading the organization to lay off staff and consider possible mergers.[26]

2016 merger

In January 2016, Equality Maryland and the FreeState Legal Project merged under the name FreeState Justice.[27][28]


FreeState Justice is a 501(c)#501(c)(3)|501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose activities focus on pro bono legal services, outreach, and education.

The organization is a member of the Equality Federation.[29]


  • Pushing Back: A Blueprint for Change[30]
  • Heart of the Matter: Maryland's Same-Sex Couples Seek Justice for their Families[31]
  • Jumping the Broom: A Black Perspective on Same-Gender Marriage[32]
  • What's In a Word? A Religious Perspective on Civil Marriage Equality[33]

See also

  • LGBT rights in Maryland
  • Same-sex marriage in Maryland
  • Respect for Marriage Act
  • List of LGBT rights organizations


  1. What's Their Real Problem With Gay Marriage?, New York Times Magazine, June 19, 2005 - retrieved August 29, 2007
  2. Hagerty, Barbara Bradley. "Maryland Judge Rejects Gay-Marriage Ban". National Public Radio. Retrieved February 10, 2012.
  3. Conaway, et al. v. Deane, et al., Maryland Court of Appeals, Highlighted Cases - retrieved August 30, 2007
  4. Rich, Eric (September 2007). "Maryland High Court Upholds Same-Sex Marriage Ban". The Washington Post. Retrieved February 10, 2012.
  5. Dao, James (May 21, 2005). "Partners Bill Is Vetoed by Governor in Maryland". The New York Times. Retrieved February 10, 2012.
  6. Sean Bugg (May 18, 2006). "State of Mind: Dan Furmansky and Equality Maryland's growing fight for the state's gay and lesbian community". Metro Weekly. Retrieved March 16, 2008.
  7. Waiting for the Same-Sex Marriage Ruling, Washington Post Blog, June 4, 2007 - retrieved August 30, 2007
  8. 8.0 8.1 Dan Furmansky. "Maryland: Ripe for Marriage Equality". Retrieved February 10, 2012.
  9. "Our History". First Unitarian Church of Baltimore. In 2007, the church hung a banner proclaiming Civil Marriage is a Civil Right from [the] columns of its portico as a [testament] to its commitment to equal rights for all. The message was adopted for GLBT rights group, Equality Maryland and now appears on signs and bumper stickers across the state. Archived from the original on February 8, 2012. Retrieved February 10, 2012.
  10. Sean Bugg (March 29, 2007). "Transgender discrimination bill defeated in Maryland". Metro Weekly. Archived from the original on September 26, 2007. Retrieved August 30, 2007.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 "Our Successes". Archived from the original on February 14, 2012. Retrieved February 21, 2012.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Najafi, Yusef. "Equality Maryland Executive Director Leaving, Says "Not My Choice to Leave"". Metro Weekly. Archived from the original on January 19, 2012. Retrieved February 21, 2012.
  13. "Maryland DMV Halts Dangerous Policy Change". Retrieved February 23, 2012.
  14. Chibbaro, Jr, Lou. "10 LGBT candidates running in Maryland". The Washington Blade. Retrieved February 21, 2012.
  15. Linskey, Annie (January 13, 2011). "Gay Marriage bill to be introduced by legislators". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved February 21, 2012.
  16. "O'Malley suggests he would sign gay marriage bill". The Washington Post. September 2010. Retrieved February 21, 2012.
  17. "MD Senate Passes Marriage Bill". The Washington Blade. Retrieved February 9, 2012.
  18. "Maryland House kills same-sex marriage bill for this year". The Washington Post. Retrieved February 9, 2012.
  19. "1199 MD/DC Stands with Labor to Support Marriage Equality in Maryland". United Healthcare Workers East. Retrieved February 21, 2012.
  20. "Maryland House of Delegates Passes Marriage Equality Bill". Archived from the original on February 20, 2012. Retrieved February 21, 2012.
  21. Md. gay marriage bill to become law Thursday afternoon, opponents begin referendum effort Washington Post. Retrieved February 25, 2012.
  22. Duncan, Ian (February 23, 2012). "Maryland Senate approves gay marriage bill". The LA Times. Retrieved February 23, 2012.
  23. Grindley, Lucas (February 17, 2012). "Last-Minute Win: Maryland House Passes Marriage". The Advocate (LGBT magazine). Archived from the original on February 20, 2012. Retrieved February 18, 2012. {{cite news}}: Text "The Advocate" ignored (help)
  24. Linskey, Annie (July 10, 2012). "Same-sex marriage petition certified". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved July 11, 2012.
  25. Wagner, John (July 10, 2012). "Md. marriage petitioners told of success". Washington Post. Retrieved August 26, 2013.
  29. "Member Organizations". Equality Federation. Retrieved September 23, 2020.
  30. "Pushing Back: A Blueprint for Change" (PDF). FreeState Justice. Retrieved September 23, 2020.
  31. "Heart of the Matter: Maryland's Same-Sex Couples Seek Justice for their Families". YouTube. Retrieved June 9, 2012.
  32. "Jumping the Broom: A Black Perspective on Same-Gender Marriage" (PDF). Equality Maryland. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 21, 2012. Retrieved June 9, 2012.
  33. "What's In a Word? A Religious Perspective on Civil Marriage Equality" (PDF). Equality Maryland. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 21, 2012. Retrieved June 9, 2012.

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