One shared how much it would mean to marry her girlfriend in Maryland while her parents are still alive — her mom is 75, her dad 78.
Another pleaded for his colleagues “to make me a full citizen of this state.” A third spoke of her struggle from the time she was a little girl to square being gay with her Catholicism, a religion that Busch shares.
“I prayed and I prayed and I prayed and I prayed,” she said as the chamber fell silent. “I prayed it would go away.”
2 hours after the debate began, it ended in a way it almost never does in a House that Busch soon will have led longer than any other Marylander: with the speaker on the losing side. Lacking the votes needed to pass on the floor, the same-sex marriage bill was sent back to committee, signaling its death for the year.
Busch, whose hunched 6-foot-1 frame still bears witness to the standout running back he was at Temple University, retreated to his office at the side of the House chamber. He apologized for the bill’s failure to a few of its leading supporters. They thanked him for his efforts. And then another unusual event happened: With them, he cried.
“It was a gut-wrenching process to go through,” Busch recalled later. “I could see how much it meant to the people in the caucus who are gay, how much it pained them and what it would have meant for their lives. These are people you see every day and you like and you respect and are colleagues. So I was — I was emotionally, physically and mentally spent.”
Most thought the House would be an easier sell on same-sex marriage than the Senate, which had passed the bill two weeks earlier.
Both chambers are heavily Democratic. But the House has been more liberal on social issues — and Busch had seemingly pulled other votes out of nowhere since becoming speaker in 2003.
That day last month, he couldn’t. Busch, who so rarely drinks alcohol he was known as “Milkshake Mike” in college, downed a cold Budweiser and headed to his Annapolis home, about a mile from the State House.
At age 64, Michael Erin Busch was not the likeliest champion of the thorniest social issue that Maryland lawmakers had debated since a high-profile abortion bill in the early 1990s.
Just last year, during his campaign for reelection, Busch indicated on one of the many questionnaires candidates get from interest groups, this one from the Maryland Catholic Conference, that he supported the state’s current law on marriage. It limits marriages to those between a man and a woman.
“I evolved from that position,” Busch said as he stabbed a fork into his apple and cheddar crepes at a preferred haunt, a French restaurant a short walk from the State House.
As speaker, Busch has been widely credited with promoting women and African Americans to leadership posts, part of a commitment to civil rights that he said dates from his days at Temple University in the 1960s. And he had no problem with expanding rights for another class of people. But Busch bristled at using “marriage” to describe gay nuptials. “Civil unions” was his preferred term, because “marriage” brought to mind religious associations.