At least 23 members of Maryland’s 47-member State Senate have publicly disclosed they will vote for a same-sex marriage bill next week, drawing attention to a senator from Baltimore who promised she would cast the deciding vote in favor of the bill if supporters were just one vote short.
Twenty-four votes are needed to pass legislation in the State Senate, and LGBT advocates monitoring the marriage bill say they are reasonably certain that Sen. Joan Carter Conway (D-Baltimore City) will fulfill her private commitment to vote “yes” if 23 of her colleagues also vote for the measure.
The Senate’s Judicial Proceedings Committee was expected to vote on Thursday to approve the bill and send it to the full Senate for debate and a floor vote next week.
Earlier this week, Conway told the Baltimore Sun she was still struggling over which way to vote on the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act, which calls for allowing lesbian and gay couples to marry in Maryland.
“She made a statement earlier saying that she would cast the deciding vote if the votes were there,” Josh Hastings, Conway’s legislative assistant, told the Blade on Feb. 11. “But she didn’t think the votes were there. That was like two weeks ago.”
As of Monday, the number of senators who publicly disclosed they would vote for the bill reached 23.
Sens. Katherine Klausmeier and Edward Kasemeyer, both Democrats from Baltimore County, were the latest to announce their decision to vote ‘yes’ on the measure in statements to the media on Monday.
On the previous Friday, Sen. Jim Brochin, also a Democrat from Baltimore County, disclosed that he would vote for the marriage bill. He said his decision to support the bill was driven, in part, by the harsh and intolerant-sounding testimony against the bill by some of its opponents at a public hearing in Annapolis on Feb. 8.
Brochin is a member of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and was present for nearly seven hours of testimony by more than 100 witnesses.
Conway shares the same legislative district as lesbian House of Delegates members Maggie McIntosh and Mary Washington, both Democrats from Baltimore City.
Sources familiar with the Maryland Legislature say Conway has made it clear to her Senate colleagues that she would vote “yes” if at least 23 other senators vote for the bill.
Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery County), a co-sponsor of the marriage bill, told the Blade Friday that he heard Conway say she would vote for the bill if her vote was needed to secure its passage.
Twenty senators have said they would vote against the bill and three have said they are undecided.
Raskin said the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, which held an all-day hearing on the bill on Tuesday, was scheduled to vote on the bill Feb. 17. He said the committee could also vote on amendments to the bill on the same day if committee members decide to introduce one or more amendments.
He said the full Senate was expected to begin debating the bill on Feb. 22, with a vote likely to take place the next day following two full days of debate.
According to Raskin, it has been more difficult for the bill’s supporters to line up the 24 votes needed to pass the bill than it has for obtaining the 29 votes needed to stop an expected filibuster.
“What’s interesting is it’s really been easier for us to get to 29 than to get to 24,” he said. “There are a number of senators who on principle feel that legislation should not be blocked by filibuster. There are also a number of moderate Democrats who, for whatever reason, cannot bring themselves to vote for marriage but are able to tell pro-marriage constituents that they will not stand in the way of a vote.”
Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller (D-Prince Georges and Calvert Counties) has taken such a position, saying he will vote against the marriage bill while voting for cloture to end a filibuster.
“I think he will bring a number of other senators with him in his wake,” Raskin said.
Political observers in the state capital in Annapolis have said support for the marriage bill is stronger in the House of Delegates, which is expected to pass the bill by a wider margin in March. Gov. Martin O’Malley has said he would sign the measure.
In a related development, the Judicial Proceedings Committee on Feb. 11 released a list of witnesses who signed up to testify for or against the marriage bill at a packed public hearing in Annapolis.
The list shows that a total of 124 people signed up to testify on the morning of the Feb. 8 hearing, with 67 indicating they oppose the marriage bill and 57 checking a box saying they support the measure.
A committee aide said the committee did not keep track of the number of people who signed up but did not appear when called to testify during the hearing, which lasted nearly seven hours.