Maryland House derails bill that would legalize same-sex marriage

Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 12, 2011; 1:58 AM

The Maryland House of Delegates effectively killed a measure Friday that would legalize same-sex marriage in the state - halting momentum in a year in which proponents thought they would prevail.

Just two weeks ago, it appeared the bill could sail to the governor's desk. Supporters were optimistic after the legislation cleared the Senate, generally considered the state's more conservative chamber.

Objections to the speed at which the measure was being considered and opposition from the constituents of some wavering members led the House on Friday to return the bill to committee, a tacit acknowledgment that it lacked enough votes to pass during this year's session.

Despite pleas from gay colleagues Friday, the General Assembly, which will end its 90-day session in early April, won't consider the measure again before January at the earliest.

"The Senate vote was definitely a wake-up call," said Minority Leader Nancy C. Jacobs (R-Harford). "It got the churches involved. It got people involved. Quite frankly, I thought it was going to fly through the House. But once delegates started hearing from their constituents, they started thinking twice."

The bill had been a tough sell among African American lawmakers from Prince George's County, who cited religious opposition in their districts, as well as conservative Democrats in Southern Maryland and the Baltimore suburbs.

But some delegates said they were surprised by the strength of the opposition in their home districts. Others, particularly new members of the House, said they need more time to weigh the issues of civil rights and religion.

"I'm taking the courageous stance," said Del. C.T. Wilson (D-Charles), one of several members who said during debate that he would not bend to pressure to vote for the bill. "I have not had a chance to take this to my constituents and get their opinion," he said.

House leaders said they remained one or two votes shy of a majority but predicted that the outcome could be different next year after lawmakers, particularly the chamber's 30 freshmen, have more time to consider the matter.

"I fully expect to see a bill come in front of the Maryland House of Delegates next year," House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) told reporters after Friday's session. "This is a distance run, not a sprint. . . . We never asked anyone to support this bill unless they felt comfortable with it."

Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), who had lobbied some delegates behind the scenes but not played a very visible role in recent weeks, said he was "disappointed" by Friday's action.

"I would have hoped that we could have resolved this issue and then let the people decide," he said, referring to the likelihood that opponents would have petitioned the issue to the ballot.

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