February 21, 2012

Judicial Proceedings Committee forwards same-sex marriage bill to full Senate

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By Megan Poinski
Megan@MarylandReporter.com

Protect Marriage says the demonstrators sign. With a 7-4 vote, the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Tuesday afternoon sent the bill allowing same-sex marriage to the full Senate, setting the stage for its full passage by the end of the week.

After less than 30 minutes of debate – mostly about the legal particulars of a referendum – the bill passed by the House of Delegates Friday was forwarded to the Senate floor without amendments. Two amendments were offered – one that would reset the legislation’s effective date to Oct. 1, and one that would establish civil unions instead of same-sex marriage – but both were quickly defeated.

“A little bit of white-out is the guillotine here,” said Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery. “If you like the bill, don’t touch it. “

Raskin voted to send the bill to the Senate floor with a favorable recommendation, as well as Committee Chairman Brian Frosh and Democratic Sens. Lisa Gladden, Baltimore; James Brochin, Balto. County; Jennie Forehand, Montgomery; Victor Ramirez, Prince George’s; and Robert Zirkin, Balto. County.

Voting against were Republican Sens. Joseph Getty, Carroll; Nancy Jacobs, Harford; Christopher Shank, Washington; and Democrat Norman Stone, Balto. County.

The legislation goes to the full Senate for debate and amendments on Wednesday. Raskin said it is likely to be ready for a final vote on Thursday or Friday. The bill passed the House of Delegates on Friday with a vote of 72-67.  The Senate approved a similar bill last year 25-21, and this year’s bill includes more protections for religious institutions, though opponents of the measure say they are still not enough.

Many legislators say they expect the Senate votes to stay the same this year.

This year’s legislation was proposed by Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration, and he will sign the bill if it gets to his desk.

Same-sex marriage opponents have pledged to collect signatures to bring the bill to referendum if it passes. If petitioners are successful, voters will get to cast ballots on same-sex marriage in November.

Brief, relatively emotionless debate

Tuesday’s debate was brief and relatively emotionless, given the deep emotions and passionate feelings associated with the issue. Opponents probed the different kinds of protections to religious institutions and people petitioning the law to referendum. Raskin, who is also a law professor, said that everything is “seaworthy,” and the religious protections should stand up in court.

Getty said that when last year’s version of the same-sex marriage came before the committee, he had tried to add amendments that protected religious beliefs. Raskin told him then that he was writing discrimination into the bill.

This year’s bill, Raskin said, allows religious institutions to opt out of solemnizing a same-sex marriage if it is against their beliefs.

“The churches have to decide who gets married in the church hall,” Raskin said. “We have to decide who gets married in city hall.”

After the same-sex marriage bill passed the Senate last year, Jacobs pledged to help collect signatures to petition it to referendum. She said on Tuesday that she’s already signed up to do that. She said that she is expecting the bill to pass the Senate – unless there is surprise opposition popping up on the floor.

“When you think you have a chance at doing something, at changing the outcome, you debate until your dying breath,” Jacobs said. “If you know you don’t, you still debate, and you offer amendments that you hope reasonable people will accept.”