Same-sex marriage passed the Senate with a 25-22 vote on Thursday night, paving the way for a battle at the ballot box in November. (Roll call tally board at bottom of story.)
The bill passed the Senate in exactly the same form as it passed the House of Delegates last week and now goes to Gov. Martin O’Malley, who proposed the bill and said he will sign it soon.
“We’ve got a lot of important work to do on jobs, on rebuilding our infrastructure, and making our economy grow,” O’Malley said. “We have to turn our attention to that important work for the remainder of this session.”
Supporters were jubilant about the vote, cheering and hugging each other in congratulations. The vote totals were the same as they were on a similar bill last year, with one more vote in the no column -- one senator was absent from the vote last year. Only one Republican, Sen. Allan Kittleman, Howard, supported the bill.
Sen. Richard Madaleno, D-Montgomery, was greeted with cheers and hugs when he exited the chamber. Madaleno is the only openly gay member of the Senate. Growing emotional when referencing his husband and two children, Madaleno said it was time for the state to embrace every family, much as he has been embraced in the Senate.
“It’s just a remarkable day for the people of the state of Maryland and I’m just so proud to have been apart of it,” he said after the vote. (Hear his remarks on our podcast.)
Gearing up for referendum
But the decision is likely to be brought to the people of the state before same-sex couples can get married – Jan 1, 2013, the effective date of the bill. Opponents have long promised a referendum on the bill if it becomes law.
Del. Neil Parrott, R-Washington, said that he will be mobilizing his petitioning organization and teaming up with Maryland Marriage Alliance to strike down same-sex marriage in the voting booth this November. Parrott, a same-sex marriage opponent, led the successful drive to petition a law the General Assembly passed last year that allows some illegal immigrants to get in-state college tuition. That law will be on the November ballot, a judge affirmed last week.
Opponents of same-sex marriage have until June 30 to collect the required 56,000 petition signatures, fend off lawsuits, and strike down the new law at the ballot box in November. Senate Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin, Cecil, asked the Senate not to change any referendum rules during the rest of the session so that voters could have a say.
Delegates who support same-sex marriage said they are ready for the referendum fight – even though every other state that has had a referendum on same-sex marriage has voted it down.
“If it gets to referendum, we are even more prepared to fight in hand-to-hand combat on the ground,” said Del. Heather Mizeur, D-Montgomery, who is openly gay. “Our debate and these victories are energizing supporters, and we will ratify same-sex marriage.”
Debate centered on religious freedom, long letters
Most of the debate, which went over two hours, centered on ensuring that religious institutions would be free not to participate in marriages that are against their beliefs.
Sen. Ed DeGrange, D–Anne Arundel, proposed an amendment that was he said was intended to further protect religious institutions from being hit with discrimination lawsuits if they do not want to let gay couples utilize their services.
Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-Mongtomery, the floor leader for the debate said that the amendment as written actually “opens up a hole the size of the Grand Canyon to what we are trying to do.” It actually would allow a religious institution to discriminate against people for any reason, including race.
Sen. Christopher Shank, R-Washington, found the amendment necessary.
“There will be conflict as a result of this law,” Shank said. “There will be lawsuits. It is inevitable. Let us go from the onset and say we have provided these protections.”
Senators began a debate on public accommodation law – the law that prohibits discrimination in places like restaurants and stores – and whether it could apply to same-sex couples.
And then Sen. David Brinkley, R-Frederick, started reading a letter from a constituent who was concerned about the religious implications of the bill. The letter reading droned on for more than 30 minutes, while senators walked about the chamber and began side conversations, waiting for him to finish. Del. Roy Dyson, D-Calvert, shared a box of chocolates with colleagues.
Sen. Roger Manno, D-Montgomery, interrupted the reading twice to ask how it was pertinent to the amendment at hand. Senate President Mike Miller responded that he wanted to give every senator the chance to be heard.
“But droning on and on hasn't affected debate in 40 years I have been in the Senate,” Miller quipped.
On the wrong side of history
Sen. Ed Reilly, R-Anne Arundel, said there are generational differences in the way people look at marriage. Younger people – including his daughters – support same sex marriage. But he does not.
“Thirty-one states have passed a defense of marriage bill,” Reilly said. “There is not a sense across this nation that our definition of marriage should be changed. Sixty-one million people have voted on same sex marriage at the ballot box, and it has failed in those attempts.”
Kittleman said that 45 years this month ago, the Maryland Senate voted to repeal the ban on interracial marriage. He said Thursday evening that the people who voted for it were on the right side of history, and he wanted to be on the right side of history now, allowing people who were born into a different sexual orientation the right to marry.
“Today, we’re here to give civil rights to folks for whom there isn’t a choice. It’s who we are,” Kittleman said. “We can’t deny that to our citizens of Maryland.”
After he voted against the bill, Senate President Mike Miller said he was voting his conscience, as voting not to overturn the state law he had supported in 1972 defining marriage as between one man and one woman. .
“Am I on the wrong side of history? No doubt about it,” Miller said. “I will deal with that in my own mind." (Hear his remarks on our podcast.)
Also, “on the wrong side of history” and the losing side of the vote, then and now, is Sen. Norman Stone, the longest serving member of the Senate. He was one of seven senators voting against the repeal of the interracial marriage ban in 1967 -- a vote he has trouble recalling -- and he voted against same-sex marriage Thursday.