Maryland Senate approves bill on gay marriage, but House passage not ensured

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
Thursday, February 24, 2011; 10:19 PM

The Maryland Senate narrowly approved legislation Thursday that would legalize same-sex marriages after a day of emotional and often personal debate laced with references to religion and civil rights.

The 25 to 21 vote sent the bill to the House of Delegates, traditionally the more liberal chamber on social issues. But supporters acknowledged Thursday that they still were a couple of votes shy of the majority needed for House passage.

During Senate debate, supporters called the legislation a matter of fairness, arguing that same-sex couples should be entitled to the hundreds of rights conferred by the state on other married couples.

"It provides full equality under the law for . . . couples like Mark and myself," said Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery), who is openly gay, referring to his partner of more than a decade, with whom he has two young children.

Several of his colleagues countered that marriage should be reserved for couples who can procreate and urged the Senate not to broaden its definition.

"The Senate has become the last bastion to protect the sacred institution of traditional marriage," said Sen. Bryan W. Simonaire (R-Anne Arundel). He warned that "young, impressionable students" would be taught "the homosexual worldview" if the bill passed.

Maryland would join five other states and the District in allowing same-sex couples to marry. Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) has said he will sign the legislation if it reaches his desk.

With attention turning to the House, supporters acknowledged Thursday that same-sex marriage has been a hard sell in that chamber with African American lawmakers from Prince George's County, as well as conservative Democrats from Southern Maryland and the Baltimore suburbs.

"We can take nothing for granted in the House," said Del. Heather R. Mizeur (D-Montgomery), who is openly gay and has been among those counting votes. "We still stand a few votes short of where we need to be to assure victory."

House Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve (D-Montgomery), the lead sponsor of the legislation in his chamber, said he remains "confident but not overconfident" that the bill will pass.

A hearing is scheduled Friday on the bill in the House, where 71 votes are needed for passage in the 141-member chamber.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) said in an interview this week that he intends to vote for the bill despite his preference that the state grant civil unions to gay couples as an alternative to marriage.

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