Gay marriage wins initial approval in Maryland Senate

Gays have scored victories for same-sex marriage and adoption, but the future of "don't ask, don't tell" is uncertain. And recent teen suicides raise questions about societal acceptance.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 23, 2011; 6:24 PM

The Maryland Senate advanced legislation Wednesday allowing same-sex marriages on a preliminary vote of 25 to 22, all but ensuring passage of the measure in that chamber.

The action, which cleared the way for a final Senate vote Thursday, followed several hours of debate on amendments designed to make exceptions for people whose religious beliefs are at odds with the notion of same-sex couples marrying.

Measures were defeated that sought to allow religiously affiliated adoption agencies to refuse services to same-sex couples, to allow clerks of courts to refuse to conduct marriages based on religious objections and to exempt public school teachers from teaching materials that "promote" gay unions.

A couple of other proposed amendments were added to the bill, including one that makes clear that religious organizations do not have to promote same-sex marriages through educational programs, counseling, retreats or summer camps. A similar provision is in the District's law allowing gay couples to marry.

Senators on both sides of the bill predicted its passage Thursday, which would send the legislation to the House of Delegates - traditionally the more liberal chamber on social policy. Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) has said he would sign the legislation.

Senate Minority Leader Nancy Jacobs, an opponent of the bill, acknowledged after debate ended Wednesday that its passage was all but certain and said there were no plans for a filibuster - perhaps the only remaining hurdle in the Senate.

"It definitely will pass," said Jacobs (R-Harford). "We all know the outcome of this."

Sen. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Montgomery), who served as the floor leader Wednesday, said the bill clearly had "great momentum" heading into Thursday's vote.

Maryland would join five other states and the District in allowing gay couples to marry. The preliminary Senate vote came the same day that the Obama administration announced that it would no longer defend the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, the federal law prohibiting recognition of same-sex marriage.

Religious objections

Raskin successfully argued against several amendments floated by Republicans and culturally conservative Democrats, at one point accusing the other side of attempted "finger-painting" on the bill with largely unrelated provisions.

Some of the most passionate debate came over the proposed amendment that sought to allow religious-affiliated adoption agencies, such as Catholic Charities, to refuse services to same-sex couples.

Raskin argued that existing state regulations require such agencies to serve same-sex couples and that any efforts to change adoption laws should be the subject of separate legislation.

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