Her absence set off a fresh scramble for one more vote to avoid a repeat of what happened last year, when a same-sex marriage bill died on the floor of the House of Delegates.
On Saturday, as they were celebrating their historic and hair-thin victory, those who championed the bill allowed that they could well have come up short again, if not for a few late-hour converts.
“I don’t think anyone was certain we had 71 votes until the moment it flashed on the board,” said Del. Justin D. Ross (D-Prince George’s), who led the House’s “whip” operation on the bill sponsored by O’Malley (D).
The bill, which cleared the House on Friday with one vote to spare, now goes to the Senate, where similar legislation passed last year. Opponents have vowed to petition the bill to the ballot, which could give voters the final say in November.
As momentum grows nationally for same-sex marriage, Friday’s margin underscores how divisive the issue remains, even in a heavily Democratic state, and how out of reach gay nuptials remain in many parts of the country.
O’Malley’s push began in the summer, when he agreed to sponsor this year’s bill in the wake of last year’s failure. He, his aides and supportive lawmakers — including seven gay House members — engaged in countless calls, visits and even prayer sessions with wavering delegates.
The Human Rights Campaign, a national gay-rights group, said Saturday that it had spent more than $500,000 on efforts in Maryland, much of that focused on making targeted lawmakers aware of support for same-sex marriage in their districts.
Despite the months-long campaign, Friday’s outcome became possible only with the late support of a pair of Republicans and a handful of Democrats who opposed last year’s bill.
One of those, Del. John L. Bohanan (D-St. Mary’s), waited until 6 a.m. Friday to send House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) a text message notifying him of his decision to vote for the bill.
Bohanan said he changed his position after long reflections while driving back and forth to Annapolis last week. “Once I began to look at this through the eyes of my own kids and other young people, it became pretty clear,” said Bohanan, who has four sons ranging in age from 17 to 21. “You want them to have love, and if that’s how they want to express it, you want them to be able to do it openly.”
Bohanan said he cast his vote also thinking the issue will go to referendum.
No “yea” vote was more surprising than that of Del. Tiffany Alston (D-Prince George’s), who was among the last to indicate her planned support.