Gay Marriage Ban Fails in Md.

"I always have another trick up my sleeve," said Del. Donald H. Dwyer Jr. (R), who sponsored the gay marriage ban. At left is Del. Kathleen M. Dumais (D). (By Matthew S. Gunby -- Associated Press)
By Matthew Mosk and Robert Barnes
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, February 3, 2006

A measure that would have put a same-sex marriage ban on the November ballot died yesterday in a hail of parliamentary maneuvers as tempers flared in the Maryland House of Delegates over an issue that carried implications both deeply personal and broadly political.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) abruptly halted the morning floor session after learning that Republicans had gathered enough signatures to petition the measure to the floor for a debate.

Later, Democrats in the House Judiciary Committee voted 11 to 10 to attach an amendment to the bill that one delegate said turned it into "scrambled eggs." The committee then voted unanimously to kill the entire proposal.

In most cases, the death of a bill in legislative committee spells an end to the debate on the matter, at least for the year. But in a day of unusually coarse partisanship, the bill's backers vowed to continue fighting.

"I always have another trick up my sleeve," said Del. Donald H. Dwyer Jr. (R-Anne Arundel), who drafted the proposal to codify in the state constitution that marriage can only involve one man and one woman.

Dwyer and other backers said the matter gained fresh urgency two weeks ago when a Baltimore Circuit Court judge ruled the state's 33-year-old same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional. The judge stayed her order, pending appeals.

Much of yesterday's maneuvering centered on shielding moderate Democrats from having to post a clear vote on the constitutional ban -- an idea that plays well in their districts but could hurt the party in this fall's pivotal elections, when both the governor's office and a U.S. Senate seat are in play.

House Democratic leaders were so concerned about possible political fallout that they refused to allow an anonymous spectator in the committee room to videotape the proceedings, a move Republicans said was meant to prevent the vote from being spun into a campaign commercial. The chief security officer for the House said it was long-standing policy.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) has issued a series of statements on the issue, though not until yesterday did he clearly voice support for the constitutional amendment. "I firmly believe the people should vote on this issue," he said.

Last month, the Virginia General Assembly placed a similar amendment on its November ballot.

The most pivotal vote of the day came on a proposal from Del. Kathleen M. Dumais (D-Montgomery), who offered an amendment introducing a seemingly contradictory concept. Under her language, the bill continued to outlaw same-sex marriage, but it also recognized civil unions, prescribing to same-sex partners all the rights and benefits afforded to married couples.

Dumais said she saw no conflict in putting the two concepts into a single constitutional amendment.

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