By Megan Poinski
With a joint committee vote of 25-18, including a lone Republican supporter, a bill allowing same-sex marriage in Maryland was sent to the full House of Delegates to be voted on as soon as this week.
Members of the House Judiciary and the House Health and Government Operations Committees spent just over an hour Tuesday evening debating and attempting to amend Gov. Martin O’Malley’s bill that would make it legal for gay and lesbian couples to marry in Maryland.
Not a single amendment was added, and Judiciary Committee Vice-Chairman Kathleen Dumais, D- Montgomery County, said that the bill will come to the House floor for second reading on Wednesday.
After the hearing, Dumais predicted that the bill could make it to its final House vote by the end of the week.
“I’m feeling very confident,” Dumais said.
According to Capital News Service, bill supporters in the House acknowledged they remain “a couple” votes shy of the 71 needed to push the legislation through the chamber. Some say the pressure of a floor debate and vote could sway undecided delegates.
“There is the potential that there are some people on the fence that, if it comes to the floor, they might be willing to change their mind, and so, I think it’s such an important issue, it’s worth the gamble,” said bill cosponsor Del. Shawn Tarrant, D-Baltimore, Tuesday morning.
Gov. Martin O’Malley agreed.
“People always make their decisions against deadlines,” O’Malley said Monday night in an interview with reporters.
Roll call on committee vote
Voting to move the bill to the floor were Dumais, Dels. Susan Lee, Jeffrey Waldstreicher, Luke Clippinger, Jill Carter, Keiffer Mitchell, Kriselda Valderrama, Frank Conaway, Curt Anderson, Luiz Simmons, Eric Bromwell, Robert Costa, Bonnie Cullison, James Hubbard, Ariana Kelly, Dan Morhaim, Peter Murphy, Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, Nathaniel Oaks, Joseline Pena-Melnyk, Kirill Reznik, Shawn Tarrant, Veronica Turner, Shane Pendergrass, and Peter Hammen.
Costa was the only Republican to support the bill.
Voting against the bill were Dels. Kevin Kelly, Tiffany Alston, Geraldine Valentino-Smith, Don Dwyer, Susan McComas, Neil Parrott, Michael Smigiel, Michael Hough, John Cluster, Michael McDermott, Joseph Vallario, John Donoghue, Donald Elliott, William Frank, Wade Kach, Nicholaus Kipke, Susan Krebs and Justin Ready.
Del. Sam Arora abstained from voting, and Del. Patrick McDonough was absent.
Following more than 10 hours of testimony from same-sex marriage supporters and opponents on Friday night, delegates had plenty to argue about during Tuesday’s voting and markup. Supporters were grateful for protections the bill puts in place to protect religious people who may disagree with some of its principles.
Proposed amendments rejected
Opponents felt that the definition of marriage should not be changed, and proposed amendments to put civil unions in place instead. They also argued there should be more in place to protect children from being forced to learn about same-sex marriages, teens should be prohibited from marrying someone of the same gender, and the bill should not be effective until 2013 to allow more time for voters to petition the bill to referendum – should it become law.
Dumais told her colleagues that it was their responsibility to move the legislation to the floor.
Opponents disagreed. Hough, R-Frederick and Washington, said that such a radical piece of legislation should not be up to only 141 people.
“We are afraid of the citizens of Maryland for voting on something that will have an incredible impact on them and their children from this day forward,” Hough said. “This is not the way, this is not the path, this is not the time.”
Supporters talk of equal rights
Supporters of the bill said it was about equal rights, but Parrott said, “This bill does not have to do with rights. It has to do with redefining marriage for all Marylanders.”
Prince George’s County Democrat Alston, who had been a pivotal opponent of the 2011 version of the same-sex marriage bill, said that allusions to “separate but equal” segregation policies are misplaced.
“It’s not separate but equal,” Alston said about civil unions. “It is a name.”
Cullison, a Montgomery County Democrat and a lesbian, felt that argument was completely wrong.
“Everyone sitting in the room knows at least seven gays or lesbians,” she said, referring to the seven gay members of the General Assembly. “What you say to us when you vote no is that, ‘You are different. You do not deserve the same rights. This institution you hold dear, that you call marriage, you do not deserve.’”
Weary of ugly debate
Jill Carter, a Baltimore City Democrat, said that she’s growing weary of the “mean-spirited and ugly” debate, especially since people who prefer civil unions seem to be painted as homophobic. She hoped that her colleagues who support same-sex marriage will fight just as hard against other inequalities in the state, especially those involving low-income minority children.
“Fight for all issues of equality, not just one,” she said.
Amendments came from both Democrats and Republicans. The civil union amendment was introduced by Prince George’s County Democrat Valentino-Smith, and enthusiastically supported by Montgomery Democrat Arora.
Alston proposed an amendment that would delay the bill’s effective date to aid people who may petition same-sex marriage to referendum.
In a written statement, O’Malley called the vote ”significant progress.”
“Together, we will continue our work to ensure that our State protects religious freedom and provides equal protection under the law for all Marylanders,” he wrote.
A similar bill is pending in the Senate, which approved the legislation last year. It is likely to move through committee there if it passes the House of Delegates.