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Wait for same-sex marriage in Maryland could be nearing an end
"Let's have that discussion," Meneses-Sheets said. "But in the meantime, we have to provide access to the institution we do have."
Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (Montgomery), the openly gay Democrat leading the marriage push, says Kittleman's gambit "shows just how far the debate has swung in Maryland" and is "a sign that people on both sides know that something is passing this year."
And civil unions aren't likely to gain traction among Republicans more conservative than Kittleman, who have voted against a succession of bills expanding gay rights.
Even the state Republican Party's new chairman, former senator Alex X. Mooney, takes a dim view of the prospects of derailing a marriage bill. He has a particularly ironic role in the gay-marriage debate. As the chamber's most outspoken social conservative during his 12-year tenure, it was his ouster from his Frederick seat that led to the committee shuffle that could allow a gay-marriage bill to pass.
"Elections have consequences," he noted dryly.
Mooney, in the position of speaking for a state party he is hoping to turn in a more conservative direction, is placing his hopes in voters, who could overturn the bill on the 2012 ballot.
But in Maryland, opponents would have to collect more than 55,000 valid signatures statewide within a matter of months to put the issue to voters. It's a tall order in a state where organizers couldn't muster enough signatures to challenge the addition of sexual orientation to the human rights law a decade ago.
Mooney sees a referendum push as a way to invigorate moribund state Republicans. "I just think we need to do it on something once to show Marylanders it can be done," he said.
Another Republican operative put it differently: "When you see a freight train, you don't stand in the way of it."