Maryland gay marriage bill dies with no final vote

The Associated Press
Saturday, March 12, 2011; 4:47 PM

ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- The speaker of Maryland's House vowed that Democrats would try again next year to pass legislation legalizing gay marriage, but the intense lobbying by faith groups against the measure in recent weeks shows that it won't be easy, even in a state known for its liberal politics.

A loose coalition of Democratic legislators failed to cobble together enough votes to overcome opposition from Republicans and religious groups, including the Catholic church and many black congregations, to make Maryland the sixth state to legalize gay marriage.

Lawmakers had planned to vote on the bill in the House, but it was withdrawn instead Friday and effectively killed for the year.

Opposition from some religious groups grew after the Senate narrowly passed its version of the measure Feb. 24. Then some black Democratic lawmakers withdrew their support, while freshman legislators had trouble determining what constituents wanted.

House leaders didn't rely on a traditional whipping operation to line up votes on a hot-button social issue, even after Republicans gains last year.

"The vote would have been very close, make no mistake about it," said House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, after it was referred back to committee on a voice vote.

Busch, who had been meeting with his fellow delegates for days seeking votes, said he will try again next year.

Delegate Anne Kaiser, D-Montgomery, one of the chamber's openly gay members, said supporters were always a few votes short of the 71 needed and that many factors blocked their way.

"I think in some cases it was the churches back home," Kaiser said. "I really can't explain people's motivations. Many people who promised us their votes changed their minds."

The bill's withdrawal bitterly disappointed gay marriage supporters who said they had appeared close to a major victory after the Senate, considered the more conservative of Maryland's two Democratic-controlled chambers, approved a similar proposal.

Same-sex marriage is legal in Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and the District of Columbia. Rhode Island lawmakers are debating legislation to legalize same-sex marriage.

But the Maryland bill hit trouble in the House two weeks ago after a committee had to delay a series of votes on the issue and some Democrats, including in the black community, began wavering. 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.

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