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

By John Wagner
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.

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.

The House also voted down an amendment that would have allowed parents to opt their children out of sex education programs that reference same-sex relationships because of religious beliefs. Teachers could have opted out under the amendment as well.

Opponents said such provisions are part of existing education regulations and don't belong in the bill.

The House also rejected an attempt to change the title of the bill from the "Civil Marriage Protection Act" to "Same-Sex Marriage."

As a practical matter, House leaders are seeking to reject all amendments so the bill can be sent directly to Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), who has pledged to sign it. If the bill is altered, it must go back to the Senate, complicating its path in the remaining weeks of the 90-day session.

Del. Donald H. Dwyer Jr. (R-Anne Arundel), a vocal opponent of the legislation, said that a decision by House leaders to resume debate Friday instead of Thursday was a good sign.

"They don't have the votes. It's obvious," Dwyer said. "If they had the votes, they'd put it to a vote."

Darrell Carrington, a member of the board of Equality Maryland, the state's leading gay rights lobby, said he was not reading too much into the timing of the floor debate.

"We are eagerly anticipating final passage," Carrington said. "We're confident in the House leadership, and we know that they know what they're doing."

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