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With Democratic gains in state Senate, Maryland poised to approve same-sex marriage

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Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), who opposes gay marriage, said that chances of a bill passing his chamber are significantly greater in the coming session than ever before. Miller, who has a reputation for iron-clad control of his chamber, said he would vote against the legislation but work to cut off the expected filibuster.

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"I believe every important issue should be voted on by the full chamber at least once," he said.

Miller stopped short of predicting the outcome, saying that he has not focused on the issue. But several people close to him said he made the crucial new committee assignments - which were made public Friday - knowing that one result would probably be passage of a same-sex marriage bill.

Those who spoke about Miller's thinking requested anonymity because they are not authorized to speak for him.

In the Senate, legislation rarely advances to a vote by the full chamber without a positive recommendation from the committee that considers it.

In past years, no more than four or five senators on the 11-member Judicial Proceedings Committee publicly committed to voting for a same-sex marriage bill.

Of the 11 senators who will be seated next month, six have either served as co-sponsors of such bills or said recently that they would support the measure. Six votes are needed to send the bill to the full chamber.

Two factors proved crucial in the changed calculus. With their gain in the Senate, Democrats were allotted an additional seat on the committee. And Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George's), a minister who opposes gay marriage, requested reassignment to another committee for unrelated reasons.

"We've been on the razor's edge in terms of passage the last couple of years, and these election results create a healthy, pro-marriage majority in the General Assembly," said Sen. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Montgomery), a committee member who supports same-sex unions.

Sen. David R. Brinkley (R-Frederick), the chamber's incoming minority whip, said the bill will face a Republican-led filibuster if it goes to the full chamber. The question is whether enough Democrats would try to block the bill, he said.

"It will put some of the conservative Democrats in a tough spot in terms of where they want to go with it," Brinkley said.

Short of the nuptials, Maryland has granted gay couples some of the same visitation and health-care rights that marriage affords. And in February, Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D) said state agencies should recognize same-sex marriages from states where they are legal.

The improved prospects for the measure in Maryland come as Republicans are pondering conservative shifts in social policy after their national gains last month.

In New Hampshire, one of the five states that allows gays to wed, conservatives are considering repealing the law after wresting control of both chambers of the legislature. And Minnesota lawmakers, who were poised to take up the same-sex marriage issue, are backing off because of GOP gains there.

In Maryland, Democrats, with their two-seat pick-up, will hold 35 of 47 seats when the General Assembly convenes next month.

Republicans gained six seats in the House. But the party remains such a distinct minority - with 43 of 141 seats - that there is unlikely to be much impact.

"I believe the votes are there for marriage equality to pass," said House Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve (D-Mongtomery).


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