Many Md. Democrats Seek Quick End to Gay Marriage Debate

By Matthew Mosk and John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, January 22, 2006

Hours after a Baltimore judge ruled that a Maryland law banning same-sex marriage violates the state constitution, reporters cornered the typically loquacious Sen. James Brochin near his desk on the Senate floor.

Brochin, a moderate Democrat who represents a swing district in conservative Baltimore County, said he would base his position on "what my district tells me do," then cut off further questions.

"Would you mind if that's all I say on this?" he said, heading briskly for the door.

The issue of same-sex marriage arrived Friday like an unwelcome houseguest for many Maryland Democrats, who say only a quick reversal from the state's highest court can keep the divisive issue from reshaping the 2006 campaign season.

"That would end the debate, and we could get back to a normal campaign season," said Timothy Maloney, a lawyer and former Democratic state delegate. "If not, there are all kinds of possibilities for mischief. . . . The Republicans will use this to beat the hell out of moderate Democrats."

For years, elected officials in Maryland have been well-insulated from the highly combustible issue of same-sex marriage. The General Assembly passed a law in 1973 that clearly defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

But after months of deliberation, a Baltimore Circuit Court judge cast open the debate Friday by ruling in favor of 19 gay plaintiffs, who argued that the 33-year-old law was discriminatory and could not withstand a constitutional challenge.

As the decision heads for an appeal, social conservatives reacted with immediate demands for action, saying the only way to prevent Maryland's courts from legalizing such unions is for the General Assembly to vote to amend the constitution, which would force the issue onto the November ballot. Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) hinted that he would support such a move.

Republicans are convinced that if it succeeds, the move would boost conservative turnout. In Maryland, where Democrats have a 2-to-1 advantage on voter rolls, a high Election Day presence among conservatives is viewed as crucial to GOP candidates.

In Virginia, the House of Delegates has approved a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage. If approved in the Senate, the measure would be on the ballot in November.

Even if the issue is not put directly to Maryland voters -- and the early betting in Annapolis is that it will not be -- same-sex marriage is certain to receive elevated attention in coming months. That's a prospect Republicans relish but many Democrats dread.

"I think it's going to have tremendous implications in the election," Senate Minority Leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus (R-Somerset) said yesterday in a radio interview on WBAL in Baltimore. "Frankly, it puts the left in Maryland . . . in a very bad position, in a tough position."

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