By Megan Poinski and Justin Snow
Same-sex marriage passed the House of Delegates with a 72-67 vote Friday night, paving the way for a long battle to determine whether Maryland will be the nation’s eighth state allowing people of the same gender to wed.
After the red and green dots on the vote board were tallied, the same-sex marriage supporters in the chamber began cheering, hugging, jumping up and down, and sobbing. The razor-thin favorable margin – with votes from only two Republicans: Del. Robert Costa, Anne Arundel, and Del. Wade Kach, Baltimore County – means that the bill goes to the Senate.
If it passes in the Senate, as it did last year, it is sure to be signed into law by Gov. Martin O’Malley, who proposed the bill.
Many opponents of the bill cleared out of the chamber quickly after the two-hour debate wrapped up. Supporters stuck around and celebrated outside the chamber with Speaker of the House Michael Busch and O’Malley, who followed the debate from his office upstairs.
To hear reactions to the vote, check out MarylandReporter.com’s podcast by Duane Keenan.
Busch, who has been one of the bill’s major supporters in the House, became emotional as he hugged and congratulated several gay delegates. Tears came to his eyes as supporters thronged around him.
“This is the right thing to do,” he said. “I feel it in my heart.”
O’Malley also joined the crowds, thanking all of the people who helped make the vote a reality.
“We’re a good people and we all want the same thing for our kids. We all want them to live in homes that are loving and caring and stable and protected equally under the law,” he said.
Tears and hugs
Del. Anne Kaiser, D-Montgomery, one of the seven openly gay delegates, said that she started crying when she saw the tally. Del. Luke Clippinger, D-Baltimore City, another gay legislator, received dozens of hugs from his colleagues and supporters. And Del. Bonnie Cullison, D-Montgomery, who also is gay, thought of an issue near and dear to her heart.
“I have to figure out how to plan a wedding in less than a year. I think January 2013 is my date,” she said, referring to the month when the law would take effect.
The unofficial House of Delegates tally board, where the numbers displayed right after votes were taken, showed a 71-67 vote. The unofficial tally shows Del. John Bohanan, D-St. Mary’s, did not vote on the bill. He actually cast a “yes” vote.
Regardless of how the bill performs in the Senate, same-sex marriage will still be a big question mark. Opponents of the bill have promised to petition it to referendum. If they are successful, the state’s voters will cast their ballots on same-sex marriage this November.
Civil, but impassioned, debate
Del. Gail Bates, R-Howard, said that she’d been told to keep her emotions out of the debate. However, she quickly realized that was impossible.
“Every one of us is going to vote based on our beliefs. And I trust each of you to do what is right in your heart,” said Bates, who spoke in opposition.
The delegates who spoke all had words that came from the heart. Most opponents laid out their arguments calmly, and repeated that their votes had nothing to do with bigotry or hate.
The last to speak was Del. Tiffany Alston, D-Prince George’s, who withdrew her support of last year’s version of the bill at the last minute. Alston voted against the bill earlier this week in the joint House committee that considered it and said that she felt the same about the bill in her heart. However, she said, it is time for the state to move beyond same-sex marriage and start working on the other important issues that lay ahead.
Alston said that because of an amendment added to the bill that delays the effective date and her own amendment that keeps the legislation from going into effect while any litigation is pending, she is confident that the bill can be petitioned to a fair referendum.
“I think the community needs to vote. I think the people need to have an opportunity to vote,” Alston said.
Against the bill, then for it
Alston was not the only vote-changer to speak on the floor. Kach said that he had made up his mind to vote against same-sex marriage. Then, he said, he sat through the committee hearing where people testified for and against the bill last week. He said the love that some of the same-sex couples had for each other, and the family life they were trying to create for their children, moved him to support the bill.
“My constituents did not send me here to judge people. So I am casting a green vote for this bill,” said Kach, who had offered the amendment to delay implementation of the bill.
But the bill did not win over everyone. Several delegates spoke up about their religious objections to same-sex marriage. Del. Pat McDonough, R-Baltimore and Harford, said that while he keeps his religion to himself, and passes no judgment on people who are gay, he feels that God’s order of things means that marriage is between a man and a woman.
McDonough said he also believes in the democratic process, and knows that the bill will be petitioned to referendum.
“The battle has now gone from this General Assembly to the people,” he said. “It has opened their eyes. We will win that petition. We will win the people.”
Fears bill doesn’t protect religious beliefs
Del. Jay Walker, D-Prince George’s, said that he has several gay friends whom he respects. But he also respects the church, and feels that the bill does not adequately protect religion.
“But on this issue here, my belief, and I believe it’s a belief of the citizens of the 26th District, I believe it’s the belief of the church groups who we’ve all heard from, we should make this so we can make decisions for generations to come that marriage is between a man and a woman,” Walker said.
Del. Geraldine Valentino-Smith, D-Prince George’s, said that her main issue with the bill did not have to do with religion, and she believes that gay couples deserve all the rights and privileges available to heterosexual married couples – but as something called civil unions.
“It became the use of the term marriage. Nothing less than the term marriage,” Valentino-Smith said. “And that is where I think a lot of us ended up in the debate. What is it with the word of marriage?”
Del. Aruna Miller, D-Montgomery, said that the issue for her is one of equality. Civil unions are not equal to marriage.
“This bill is about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for every Marylander,” she said.
Senate could take up bill next week
The legislation will now move to the Senate, which could take up the measure as soon as next week. Carrie Evans, the executive director of Equality Maryland, who has been lobbying on behalf of the issue for months, says she still believes they have the votes that successfully passed similar legislation last year.
“I think [Senate President Mike Miller], like the speaker, is just trying to get it out and move on to other business,” Evans said.
Although Evans was confident of the bill’s success in the Senate, she noted that a referendum process was likely inevitable. Petitioners would need slightly more than 55,000 signatures to place the issue before voters on the 2012 ballot. Polls have shown Marylanders remain divided on the issue.