Bid in Md. House to Save Gay Marriage Ban Fails

By Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 4, 2006

Republicans tried to revive a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage on the floor the Maryland House of Delegates yesterday, but Democrats squelched that move after giving their GOP colleagues and moderates within their own ranks a chance to speak out for traditional marriage.

The House spent nearly an hour debating whether to reverse Thursday's committee vote rejecting a bill that would have let Maryland voters decide whether marriage should join only men and women.

Republicans conceded that yesterday's procedural vote all but ended their campaign to put the constitutional amendment on the November ballot. They could still take up the issue in the Senate. But traditionally, defeat in one chamber has precluded any serious consideration or vote in the other.

The proposal, a perennial in the General Assembly, has drawn unusual attention this year because of a Baltimore Circuit Court ruling two weeks ago that the state's 33-year-old law banning same-sex marriage is discriminatory and unconstitutional.

Although that ruling was stayed, pending appeal, Republicans said the legislature needed to intervene.

"Their opinion did not prevail," said House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel). "But everyone had the chance to voice their opinion and vote."

Yesterday's action came a day after the bill was rejected in committee during one of the most contentious and partisan sessions in recent years.

After decrying the committee vote, Republicans attempted to employ a rarely used procedure to revisit the decision on the House floor. But to reopen the debate, they needed support from a majority of the chamber's 141 members. Forty-two Republicans -- all but Del. Jean B. Cryor (Montgomery) -- and 19 Democrats voted to revive the bill, and the attempt failed on a 61 to 78 vote.

Afterward, a number of the 19 Democrats said they appreciated the chance to vote, even if it was on a procedural question, because it let them publicly identify their position on an issue that carries deeply personal and broadly political implications.

"We needed to show where we were," said Del. Eric M. Bromwell (D-Baltimore County), who said many of his constituents feel passionately that marriage should involve only a man and woman. "Today, this allowed us to do that."

House Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve (D-Montgomery) said that was a helpful byproduct of the morning vote. Although many members supported the marriage bill, they also recognized the delicate balance between their political needs and those of the state Democratic Party.

In other states where the issue has appeared on the ballot, it drove up Republican turnout on Election Day -- something that could hurt Maryland Democrats, who are in hotly contested races for governor and U.S. Senate this year.

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