March 9, 2011

Same-sex marriage ready for final vote Friday as amendment attempts fail

Print More

Demonstrators for "marriage equality" -- same sex marriage -- outside the State House Tuesday.

By Megan Poinski
Megan@MarylandReporter.com

Supporters of same-sex marriage in the House of Delegates beat back several attempts to amend the legislation Wednesday, paving the way for a final vote Friday on the legislation in exactly the same form that it passed the Senate two weeks ago.

The House leadership had made clear that the bill needed to stay exactly the same or it would likely die if returned to the Senate.

Through the course of the morning-long debate, four amendments were offered, debated vigorously, and voted down. The most debate and the most narrow defeat occurred on an amendment by Del. Aisha Braveboy, D-Prince George’s, that would have tied the bill to a still-pending measure before the House Judiciary Committee to amend the constitution, defining marriage as between one man and one woman. According to Braveboy’s amendment, same-sex marriage would only be allowed if the constitutional amendment got to the voters, and they rejected defining marriage as being between one man and one woman.

Braveboy’s amendment failed with a vote of 63-72. Five delegates did not vote, and one was absent. The same-sex marriage legislation requires 71 votes to pass the House, so the tally on the final amendment indicates the final vote will be close.

Taking it to the people

Since the bill began working its way through the General Assembly this year, opponents have said that they will mobilize to place it on the 2012 ballot as a referendum. Braveboy said that her amendment would take out the step of having to collect signatures, and would automatically bring it to the voters.

“This will ensure the voters of this state have the opportunity to weigh in on an issue that they want to weigh in on,” she said.

Judiciary Committee Vice Chair Kathleen Dumais, D-Montgomery, floor leader for the bill, disagreed with Braveboy’s methodology. There is a clear way to bring something to referendum, by collecting signatures, and tying the passage of same-sex marriage bill to something else is not the way to do it.

Supporters said that Braveboy’s amendment was “well thought out,” and offered a compromise so that the people can make the final decision on same-sex marriage. Del. Jay Walker, D-Prince George’s County, noted that everything about the issue has passed by a close margin. When votes are this close, he asked, how can the elected officials in Annapolis say that they are making an informed decision for all of the people in the state?

“I believe we can never go wrong with taking it to the people,” Walker said.

No guarantee

But Del. Luiz Simmons, D – Montgomery County, said that the amendment would not guarantee that the issue of same-sex marriage go to the people. Instead, it essentially would send the bill back to the Judiciary Committee, where the constitutional amendment that had not yet passed.

“This is a kind of a Rube Goldberg contraption, which I in nine years have not seen on this floor,” Simmons said.
Delegates were elected to the General Assembly to make decisions and vote, Simmons said. Therefore, they should have conviction and courage and vote on the bill itself, and not do what he called hiding behind an amendment that would make it fade into the background.

Del. Keiffer Mitchell Jr., D- Baltimore City, looked back several decades at when the General Assembly was considering issues like equal rights and fair access. The debate was similar, he said, and what would have happened if those questions were left undecided.

“Looking at this, are we turning the clock back on civil rights?” he asked.

Del. John Donoghue, D-Washington County, offered an earlier amendment that would have exempted religious organizations from providing adoption, foster care or social services if same-sex marriage violates their religious beliefs. It lost 58-79.

Dumais railed against the amendment, saying that it would require the rewriting of state social services law. In 2001, regulations were adopted outlawing discrimination in adoption services. She implored her colleagues to remember the topic at hand: marriage.

“If we need a change in social services law, somebody bring in a bill and we’ll talk about it,” she said.

Another amendment, offered by Del. Kathy Afzali, R-Frederick, would allow parents who disagree with the teaching of same-sex marriage in schools to exempt their children from those lessons, and would allow teachers who don’t agree with same-sex marriage to be excused from teaching it.

Dumais responded that the General Assembly has no place in legislating public school curriculum, but there are already regulations in place that allow these kinds of exemptions. All sex education needs to be age appropriate, and parents must be notified before the topic comes up. Parents have the opportunity to review what will be taught, and have the ability to withdraw their children from the lesson. Dumais said the amendment was not necessary.

“What I’m asking as a mother is for added reassurance,” Afzali said. “I don’t want to have to go to a courtroom.”

The amendment failed on a 54-86 vote.

The other amendment, offered by Del. Andrew Serafini, R-Washington County, would have changed the title of the bill from the “Civil Marriage Protection Act” to the “Same-Sex Marriage Act.”He said the bill title was not clear, and people may not know what it is about.

But Dumais responded, “I don’t think anyone in Maryland doesn’t know what this bill is and what it is about,” The amendment failed 52-85.

If the bill passes the full House on Friday, it will go to Gov. Martin O’Malley, who has said he will sign it.