By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 15, 2011; B01
A majority of Maryland's state senators have said publicly that they will vote to legalize same-sex marriages, greatly increasing the odds that the highest-profile social legislation being considered by the General Assembly will pass in coming weeks.
In interviews Monday, two more senators said they intended to vote for the bill, increasing the number who have made such commitments to 24 - the bare majority needed for passage in the 47-member Senate - according to an ongoing Washington Post tally.
"I think it's the fair thing to do," said Sen. Katherine A. Klausmeier (D-Baltimore County), who said she had gone back and forth on the bill a few times. "I just weighed all the options. I think it's fairness."
Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer (D-Baltimore County) also voiced support for the bill in an interview Monday, saying, "I don't see how you can deny the right" to gay couples to marry.
If the bill clears the Senate, it would move to the House - traditionally the more liberal of the two chambers on social policy. Sponsors say they are confident they can secure a majority there.
Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) has said he would sign the bill. Maryland would join five other states and the District in allowing same-sex marriages.
The Post's tally is not a guarantee of the bill's passage when it reaches the Senate floor, probably next week. Several senators, including Klausmeier, have publicly agonized over their positions in recent days. Opponents also have threatened a filibuster in an attempt to kill the legislation.
The Post's count of 24 senators includes one - Joan Carter Conway (D-Baltimore) - who has said she will not vote for the bill if she believes it will fail. Conway told The Post last week that she "would pray real hard" and vote for the bill if hers was the deciding vote.
The announcement of new support came the same day a few hundred gay rights supporters convened in Annapolis for a rally and delivered carnations to lawmakers on Valentine's Day. Participants at the early evening rally held signs saying such things as "Love Will Prevail."
The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, which held a seven-hour hearing on the legislation last week, has scheduled a vote Thursday. Seven of the 11 committee members have said they will vote to send the bill to the floor.A change of mind
One of those members, Sen. James Brochin (D-Baltimore County), stunned his colleagues last week with his announcement that he would support the bill.
Brochin had previously been on record supporting civil unions but said he "stumbled over the word marriage."
Brochin said his mind was changed by the hearing on the bill, particularly by the testimony of same-sex marriage opponents, which Brochin said he found "appalling and disgusting. . . . I just heard hate and venom coming out of that hearing."
Others opposed to the bill, including a representative of the Maryland Catholic Conference, argued that children were best raised by a mother and a father. Supporters of the bill argued that Maryland's current law - which limits marriage to a man and a woman - is discriminatory and denies same-sex couples hundreds of legal rights.
The General Assembly may not have the final word on the issue: If the bill passes, opponents of the legislation have said they would take advantage of a provision in Maryland law that allows citizens to petition approved legislation to the ballot. If successful, that would put the law on hold pending a statewide vote in November 2012.
The Post tally of 24 senators includes 18 who are listed as sponsors of the bill and six who have said in interviews that they intend to vote for its passage.Support in D.C. suburbs
Only one of the chamber's 12 Republicans, Sen. Allan H. Kittleman (Howard), has pledged to support the same-sex marriage bill. Kittleman initially announced he would sponsor a civil unions bill but changed his mind after that idea generated little support.
All eight of the senators representing Montgomery County are sponsors of the same-sex marriage legislation, including its lead sponsor, Majority Leader Robert J. Garagiola (D).
Four senators whose districts include parts of Prince George's County have indicated they will oppose the legislation, including Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Democrat whose district also includes part of Calvert County. The other three Prince George's senators in opposition are Douglas J.J. Peters (D), Joanne C. Benson (D) and C. Anthony Muse (D).
Although he opposes same-sex marriage, Miller has pledged to work to end any attempted filibuster of the bill.
The chief House sponsor of the legislation, Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve (D-Montgomery), said he is "pretty confident" the bill will pass in his chamber if it first clears the Senate.
"We'll have more than 71 votes on the House floor," Barve said, referring to the minimum needed for passage.