February 23, 2011 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Md. marriage bill advances in Senate

Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery County) (Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Maryland State Senate on Wednesday voted 25 to 22 to give preliminary approval of a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in the state, indicating the historic marriage equality measure is likely to pass in a final Senate vote expected on Thursday or Friday.

Wednesday’s vote came after the Senate defeated four proposed amendments introduced by opponents of the bill calling for allowing private businesses or individuals not affiliated with religious institutions to discriminate against same-sex couples in services or public accommodations based on a religious conviction.

But opponents garnered enough support to pass by a vote of 26 to 21 an amendment changing the bill’s name from the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act to the Civil Marriage Protection Act.

Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George’s County), who introduced the name change amendment, argued that the bill was about same-sex marriage and had “nothing to do” with religious freedom, especially for those who object to same-sex marriage on religious grounds.

“That was the one unfortunate turn of events,” said Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery County), a sponsor of the bill who served as floor leader on behalf of the bill.

“I was disappointed in the title change but otherwise today it could not have gone better for us,” he said.

Raskin, an American University law professor, noted that four hostile amendments were defeated and three others were withdrawn by senators after backers of the marriage bill argued against them.

The Senate approved two amendments aimed at clarifying the bill’s existing provisions allowing clergy, churches and other religious institutions to refuse, on religious grounds, to provide services or accommodations for same-sex weddings. Raskin, acting as floor leader, accepted the two as friendly amendments.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Calvert and Prince George’s Counties) ended discussion on the marriage bill shortly after noon following completion of consideration of amendments. He scheduled the debate on the bill itself to begin Thursday morning.

Supporters and opponents of the bill expected the debate to continue through at least early evening on Thursday, with a vote on the final bill expected late Thursday or early Friday.

Nearly all political observers in the state believe the Maryland House of Delegates will approve the marriage bill next month by a margin wider than the vote in the Senate. Gov. Martin O’Malley has said he would sign the measure if it clears the two houses of the legislature.

Lisa Polyak, a spokesperson for the statewide LGBT group Equality Maryland, which is leading lobbying efforts in support of the bill, said most supporters believe the 25 to 22 vote by the Senate in support of the bill on Wednesday was “predictive” of the outcome of the final Senate vote on the measure.

Among those voting for the bill was Sen. Joan Carter Conway (D-Baltimore City), who promised privately to vote for the bill only if her vote was needed for its passage.

Twenty-four votes are needed to pass legislation in the 47-member Maryland Senate. Carter’s decision to vote “yes,” even though the bill could have cleared its preliminary approval Wednesday without her vote, indicates she chose to vote for “equality,” Polyak said.

“We’re very heartened by what we heard,” she said.

One of the amendments defeated during Wednesday’s floor session called for allowing religious organizations that provide adoption services to the general public, such as the national group Catholic Charities, to refuse to facilitate an adoption by any prospective parent – either a couple or single person – if such an adoption would be contrary to their religious beliefs.

Raskin noted that while the amendment may have been aimed at allowing a group like Catholic Charities to refuse adoptions for same-sex couples, it would create a broad exemption to Maryland’s existing non-discrimination regulations than ban discrimination in adoptions.

“I was resisting every effort to use the marriage bill as an opportunity to reopen and rewrite decades of settled anti-discrimination law,” he said.

In Wednesday’s vote, 24 Democratic senators and just one Republican – Sen. Allan Kittleman of Howard County – voted for the bill. Kittleman joined the ranks of the bill’s supporters last month after dropping an earlier plan to introduce a civil unions bill as a substitute measure for the marriage bill.

Eleven Democrats joined 11 Republican senators to vote against the bill.

Five of the 11 Democrats voting against the bill represent districts in Prince George’s County, a majority black county that borders D.C. where many residents are considered progressive on economic issues but conservative on social issues such as same-sex marriage.

The National Organization for Marriage, a national group leading efforts to oppose same-sex marriage, has said it will target black voters in a voter referendum seeking to overturn the marriage law if it wins approval in the legislature.

In a last-ditch effort to kill the bill, the Maryland Republican Party issued an action alert on Saturday calling on GOP leaders and residents to target nine mostly Democratic senators, with the aim of pressuring them to vote “no” on the bill.

Seven of the nine voted for the bill in the preliminary vote on Wednesday, with just two voting against it. One of the two to vote no, Senate President Mike Miller of Prince George’s and Calvert Counties, has long said he would oppose the bill. Miller also has made it clear he will vote to end a filibuster aimed at preventing the bill from coming up for a final Senate vote.

Wednesday’s vote results:

For

Sen. James Brochin, Baltimore County Democrat
Sen. Joan Carter Conway, Baltimore Democrat
Sen. Bill Ferguson, Baltimore Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Jennie Forehand, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Brian Frosh, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Rob Garagiola, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Lisa Gladden, Baltimore Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Verna Jones, Baltimore Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Edward Kasemeyer, Baltimore and Howard counties Democrat
Sen. Delores Kelley, Baltimore County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Nancy King, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Allan H. Kittleman, Howard County Republican
Sen. Katherine Klausmeier, Baltimore County Democrat
Sen. Richard Madaleno, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Roger Manno, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Nathaniel McFadden, Baltimore Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Karen Montgomery, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Paul Pinsky, Prince George’s County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Catherine E. Pugh, Baltimore Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Victor Ramirez, Prince George’s County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Jamie Raskin, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. James Robey, Howard County Democrat
Sen. James Rosapepe, Prince George’s County Democrat
Sen. Ronald Young, Frederick County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Bobby Zirkin, Baltimore County Democrat (sponsor)

Against
Sen. John Astle, Anne Arundel County Democrat
Sen. Joanne Benson, Prince George’s County Democrat
Sen. David Brinkley, Carroll and Frederick counties Republican
Sen. Richard Colburn, Eastern Shore Republican
Sen. Ulysses Currie, Prince George’s County Democrat
Sen. James DeGrange, Anne Arundel County Democrat
Sen. Roy Dyson, Southern Maryland Democrat
Sen. George Edwards, Western Maryland Republican
Sen. Joseph Getty, Baltimore and Carroll counties Republican
Sen. Barry Glassman, Harford County Republican
Sen. Nancy Jacobs, Harford and Cecil counties Republican
Sen. J.B. Jennings, Baltimore and Harford counties Republican
Sen. James Mathias, Eastern Shore Democrat
Sen. Thomas Middleton, Charles County Democrat
Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller, Prince George’s and Calvert counties Democrat
Sen. C. Anthony Muse, Prince George’s County Democrat
Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters, Prince George’s County Democrat
Sen. E.J. Pipkin, Eastern Shore Republican
Sen. Edward Reilly, Anne Arundel County Republican
Sen. Christopher Shank, Washington County Republican
Sen. Bryan Simonaire, Anne Arundel County Republican
Sen. Norman Stone, Baltimore County Democrat

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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