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Amendments to Maryland gay marriage bill fail; final House vote uncertain

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 9, 2011; 10:42 PM

Supporters of a bill to allow same-sex marriages in Maryland fended off several amendments Wednesday in the House of Delegates that could have sunk the legislation but said it was unclear whether they would have enough votes to pass it.

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House leaders said a final vote is likely Friday, setting the stage for a frantic push by both sides to sway a few wavering delegates.

"It will be very close," said House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel), who supports the bill. "There are still people mulling it over."

Although the House traditionally has been the more liberal chamber on social policy in Maryland, advocates of same-sex marriage have been struggling to secure commitments on the bill, which the Senate passed two weeks ago in a 25 to 21 vote.

The amendment that drew the most support Wednesday was an attempt to guarantee that voters would get a say on the high-profile issue, said its sponsor, Del. Aisha N. Braveboy (D-Prince George's).

The Maryland Constitution provides a process for residents to petition just-passed laws to the ballot if they collect enough signatures. For weeks, lawmakers on both sides have predicted that same-sex marriage opponents would meet that threshold if the bill passed. That would put the new law on hold pending a statewide vote in November 2012.

Under Braveboy's amendment, the law allowing same-sex marriage could not take effect unless voters reject a separate 2012 ballot question asking whether a ban on same-sex marriage should be written into the state constitution.

"You can never go wrong by taking it to the people," said Del. Jay Walker (D-Prince George's), who supported Braveboy's amendment.

Same-sex marriage advocates said that Braveboy's amendment would kill the gay-nuptials bill. To implement her plan, several additional votes would be required in the House and Senate, including some requiring a supermajority of members for passage.

"As a practical matter, you vote for this amendment, you kill this bill," said Del. Luiz R.S. Simmons (D-Montgomery), a supporter of the same-sex marriage legislation.

The House voted 72 to 63 against Braveboy's amendment.

Another amendment that was rejected sought to allow religious-affiliated adoption agencies, such as Catholic Charities, to refuse services to same-sex couples. Opponents of the amendment said that it was at odds with an existing antidiscrimination law.


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