The fate of Maryland’s same-sex marriage legislation hung in the balance Thursday after the Democratic-led House of Delegates delayed consideration of the bill amid speculation that supporters remain short of the votes to pass it.
The House met only briefly Thursday night for a floor session in which delegates were scheduled to weigh several proposed amendments to the legislation to legalize gay nuptials. Consideration of the bill, sponsored by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), had already been postponed once earlier in the day.
“They clearly do not have the votes,” House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell (R-Calvert) told reporters as the evening floor session broke up. “The want more time to twist arms.”
House leaders acknowledged that the vote count remains close and noted that one supporter, Del. Veronica L. Turner (D-Prince George’s), had been hospitalized and is scheduled to undergo a medical procedure Friday.
“She’s ill. She’s at the hospital, and, frankly, we’re very close, and we’d like to see her here,” said Del. Luke H. Clippinger (D-Baltimore), a gay lawmaker who has been heavily involved in vote counting. “We’d like to see her here under any circumstance.”
Aides to House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) said they expect debate to resume Friday afternoon over proposed amendments to the bill. It was unclear whether a vote on passage would take place before next week.
Further complicating matters were plans of another Democratic supporter of the bill to attend an out-of-town conference Friday, lawmakers said.
It is the second year in a row the Maryland House has been consumed with drama over same-sex marriage legislation. Last session, a similar bill unexpectedly died on the House floor after several delegates who initially co-sponsored the bill withdrew their support.
On Thursday, supporters showed some signs of progress, including the announcement of support from a second Republican in the chamber.
In a statement, Del. A. Wade Kach (R-Baltimore County) attributed his decision in part to testimony at a hearing on the bill last week.
“While no one event or conversation prompted me to come to this decision, I was significantly moved by the testimony of families who are raising children in a loving environment and deserve every right to enjoy the same protections and responsibilities that our laws provide for others,” Kach said.
Kach joined Del. Robert A. Costa (Anne Arundel) as the only announced GOP supporters of the bill in the House.
The only amendment considered Thursday was one offered by Kach. It would move the effective date of the bill back from Oct. 1 to Jan. 1. Kach said it was needed to allay fears about marriages taking place before the November election.
Both sides expect opponents to take advantage of a provision in the Maryland Constitution that allows just-passed laws to be petitioned to the ballot.
O’Donnell played down the Republican support for the bill. He noted that a sizable number of Democrats in the 141-member chamber are opposed and that his side is working to sway more of them.
“I think the true bipartisanship is in the opposition,” O’Donnell said.
The bill has proved a tough sell among African American lawmakers from Prince George’s County, with several citing opposition from churches and constituents. Several conservative Democrats from the Baltimore suburbs and Southern Maryland have also balked at overtures to support the bill.
As lobbying from both sides of the same-sex marriage debate took place Thursday afternoon, the Maryland Marriage Alliance sent an open letter to O’Malley taking issue with the legislative process.
The group, which is composed of religious leaders, questioned in particular this week’s joint vote by two committees that has allowed the bill to come to the floor of the House.
“We recommend that you take the high road of political integrity and ethics, and not allow the will of Maryland’s people to be thwarted by manipulating the legislative process,” the group wrote.
The letter was presented at a news conference attended by more than 40 ministers and other supporters of the alliance.