Maryland gay marriage bill dies with no final vote

The Associated Press
Friday, March 11, 2011; 9:05 PM

ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- A bill to legalize gay marriage in Maryland fell short Friday after supporters failed to find enough votes to overcome Republican opposition and misgivings by some Democrats in the deeply Catholic state.

A final vote had been expected in the House, but the overwhelmingly Democratic chamber's leaders instead withdrew it. A confluence of factors helped fracture Democratic support, including a split among black lawmakers, the opposition of some churches and trouble for some freshman lawmakers in determining what their constituents wanted.

"The vote would have been very close, make no mistake about it," said House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, minutes after lawmakers returned the bill to a House committee on a voice vote, effectively killing it for the year.

The unexpected move came after two weeks of intense lobbying that included Busch meeting with delegates over the past several days to try and secure votes. He said Democrats would try again next year.

The bill to make Maryland the sixth state to allow gay marriage had already passed the Senate, and the governor said he would have signed it. Before this year, measures to extend full marriage rights to same-sex couples had never made it as far.

The Senate narrowly approved the measure two weeks ago, voting 25-21 to send the bill to the House after adding language to keep religious groups from being forced to serve gay weddings.

But the bill hit trouble in the House two weeks ago after a committee had to delay a series of votes on the issue. It ended with Busch and his lieutenants deciding it was better to save a final vote for next year, rather than put delegates on the record with a failed vote this year.

Even some supporters predicted that, if passed, the measure would have been petitioned to referendum.

"I would have hoped that we could have resolved this issue and then let the people decide," said Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, after the House killed the measure. "I think an issue like this was bound to go before the people in a referendum, and I would have hoped that we would have been able to have accomplished that today."

Same-sex marriage is legal in Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and the District of Columbia.

Proposals to increase that number have caused tempers to flare. Heated confrontations took place between supporters and opponents at a hearing this week on legislation to legalize same-sex marriage in Rhode Island.

National groups on both sides of the debate had converged on Annapolis in the past week, with the National Organization for Marriage pledging to spend $1 million to oppose the re-election of supporters of the bill. Meanwhile, the liberal Human Rights Campaign telephoned voters to urge them to ask their lawmakers to support the bill.

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