Maryland same-sex marriage bill clears divided House panel

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 4, 2011; 8:47 PM

A previously stalled bill to allow same-sex marriages in Maryland was approved by a House committee Friday, but only after the panel's chairman, who rarely votes and has opposed the idea in the past, augmented the final tally.

With Chairman Joseph F. Vallario Jr. (D-Prince George's) providing the 12th vote - the bare minimum needed - the Judiciary Committee sent the bill to the House floor for what is expected to be a dramatic debate next week on the highest-profile issue being considered in the General Assembly this year.

After Friday's action, the full House is the only remaining hurdle for the bill, which passed the Senate last week on a 25 to 21 vote and which Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) has said he wants to sign. Both sides expect the House vote to be very close.

Morgan Meneses-Sheets, executive director of _blankEquality Maryland, said the committee vote moved the state "one step closer to providing not only the same benefits, but also the respect and dignity to the thousands of gay and lesbian couples in Maryland."

Michael J. Hough (R-Frederick), one of the 10 committee members to vote against the bill, said supporters were trying to "redefine marriage for the rest of us."

The bill was thrown off track Tuesday when two committee members, who had previously pledged their support, skipped a planned vote.

One of them, Del. Tiffany T. Alston (D-Prince George's), voted against the bill Friday, saying she was doing so "for my constituents."

Before casting her "no" vote, Alston offered an amendment that would have offered civil unions to gay couples as an alternative to marriage. Alston said she was trying to "strike a balance" between expanding rights and respecting her constituents.

Her motion failed on a dramatic 10 to 10 vote, with Del. Jill P. Carter (D-Baltimore) first passing when her name was called and then not voting either way.

Carter was the other delegate who skipped Tuesday's planned voting session, saying she was withholding her vote to gain leverage on other issues. On Friday, she voted for the same-sex marriage bill.

Supporters had been counting on both Alston and Carter for the 12 required votes of support.

Without Alston's support, Vallario, who has opposed same-sex marriage in the past, provided the final vote. Aides said he was not available for an interview afterward.

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