With Democratic gains in state Senate, Maryland poised to approve same-sex marriage
Wednesday, December 8, 2010; 10:18 PM
A majority of senators on a key committee in Maryland now favor legalizing same-sex marriage, making it increasingly likely that the state will join five others and the District in allowing such unions.
Membership changes on the panel, where same-sex marriage bills have previously died, are among a handful of shifts produced by last month's elections. Collectively, they appear to have tipped the balance on the most high-profile social issue the General Assembly will consider during its upcoming 90-day session.
Republican gains Nov. 2 in other state legislatures are expected to lead to more conservative social policies. But Democrats in Maryland bucked the trend, adding two seats to their majority in the Senate. Moreover, when the General Assembly convenes next month, a few senators who lost primaries will be replaced by Democrats more supportive of same-sex unions.
"This has truly been a transformative election on this issue," said Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery), an openly gay lawmaker who has sponsored same-sex marriage legislation and plans to push for passage this session. "I could not have hoped for a better result. You can see a real path to enacting this legislation."
Despite Maryland's reputation as a liberal state, lawmakers have been slower to embrace same-sex unions than their colleagues in some other blue states, in part because of the strong opposition of the Catholic and black churches.
The legislation would remove a long-standing requirement in Maryland law that recognizes only marriages between a man and a woman.
Leaders of the House of Delegates, traditionally the more liberal chamber on social policy, said they have the votes to pass the measure. And Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) has said he would sign such a bill, although he has previously supported the alternative of civil unions.
Some potential hurdles remain - both inside and outside the State House - before Maryland can become the latest state to allow same-sex marriage since Massachusetts began doing so in 2004 and the District followed suit in March.
If a same-sex marriage bill is approved, advocates on both sides say they expect opponents to take advantage of a provision in Maryland that allows residents to petition recently passed laws to the ballot. A successful signature drive would put the measure on hold, pending the results of a statewide referendum in November 2012.
Support for ballot measures can be difficult to gauge this far out, but a Washington Post poll conducted in May found that 46 percent of Marylanders favored legalizing same-sex marriage, 44 percent opposed it and 10 percent had no opinion.
Those results reflected rapidly evolving attitudes on an issue that tends to break along generational lines. In late 2007, an identical Post poll question found 44 percent in favor overall and 51 percent opposed in Maryland.
In the nearer term, opponents in the Senate are expected to mount a filibuster to block the legislation. That would require a super-majority to move forward - including support from some more conservative Democrats opposed to the measure but willing to allow an up-or-down vote.