March 10, 2011 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Md. House debating marriage

The Maryland House of Delegates began floor debate on the marriage equality bill at 11 a.m. Friday. The atmosphere in the chamber  is tense amid speculation that there are only 69 or 70 votes — 71 are required for passage.

So far this morning, several Republicans have taken to the floor to denounce the bill, including Del. Emmett Burns who claims his life has been threatened due to his opposition.

The Blade will update this page as developments warrant.

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A bill to allow same-sex couples to marry survived an attempt to kill or weaken it through amendments in the Maryland House of Delegates on Wednesday and was expected to come up for a final vote Friday.

The amendments were introduced during the opening round of debate in the chamber on the Civil Marriage Protection Act. A vote on the bill was initially set for Thursday, but House Speaker Michael Busch (D-Anne Arundel County) moved it back to Friday as supporters scrambled to line up the 71 votes needed for passage.

“I feel very confident that we’re going to get to 71,” said Del. Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City), one of seven openly gay members of the House of Delegates.

Others following the bill have expressed concern that support in the House began to erode after the Senate passed the measure last month and Gov. Martin O’Malley reiterated his commitment to sign it.

Del. Heather Mizuer (D-Montgomery County), a lesbian, said the defeat by supporters of four hostile amendments during Wednesday morning’s opening round was a good sign because it showed supporters had the strength to stop attempts to derail the bill. But she cautioned that more amendments were expected during Friday’s session.

Del. Aisha Braveboy (D-Prince George’s County) introduced what backers of the bill considered the most threatening of the proposed amendments.

Saying she wanted to ensure that voters rather than lawmakers have the final say on the issue, Braveboy said her amendment would accomplish that by converting the marriage bill into a proposed state constitutional amendment calling for legalizing same-sex marriage. Maryland’s constitution requires that all proposed amendments to the constitution be placed before voters in a referendum.

Supporters of the marriage bill, led by Del. Kathleen Dumais (D-Montgomery County), the vice chair of the House Judiciary Committee which has jurisdiction over the bill, noted that a vote by the House to convert the bill into a constitutional amendment would send it back to committee. With most observers believing support for such a constitutional amendment is lacking in the committee, Dumais and other backers of the marriage bill said Braveboy’s amendment would effectively kill the bill.

The amendment was defeated by a roll-call vote of 72 to 63.

Among those voting for it were Delegates Jill Carter (D-Baltimore City) and Tiffany Alston (D-Prince George’s County), two of three original co-sponsors of the marriage bill who stunned supporters last week by announcing they were considering withdrawing their support.

Del. Sam Arora (D-Montgomery County), who joined Carter and Alston in saying he was about to withdraw his support for the bill, changed his mind following a firestorm of criticism from residents of his district. He issued a statement last week saying he would vote for the bill in committee and on the House floor, with the expectation that voters would have the final say in an expected referendum, which he favors.

Arora voted against the Braveboy amendment on Wednesday but voted for another amendment calling for allowing private social services agencies to refuse to provide adoption, foster care or other services if providing such services “would violate the entity’s religious beliefs.”

Although the amendment did not specifically mention gay adoptions, LGBT activists said they believed it was aimed at using the marriage equality bill as a vehicle for weakening the state’s existing adoption policies. The existing polices prohibit adoption agencies from discriminating against same-sex couples or gay or lesbian single parents seeking to adopt if they meet the same eligibility requirements as heterosexuals seeking to adopt.

The adoption related amendment, introduced by Del. John Donoghue (D-Washington County), lost by a vote of 79 to 58. Alston voted for the amendment; Carter voted against it.

An amendment introduced by Del. Kathryn Afzali (R-Frederick County) called for allowing parents of public school children to excuse a child from attending classes or instruction “involving materials that promote same-sex marriage.” The amendment also called for allowing a teacher to decline to teach such a class or materials.

Afzali and others supporting the amendment argued that teachers and parents should be given the right to opt out of such classes or instructional programs if same-sex marriage is contrary to their religious or moral beliefs.

Similar to her arguments against the adoption amendment, Dumais said curriculum related policies for the public schools were not germane to a marriage equality bill and should be left to locally elected school boards or the state’s education department to decide.

The amendment lost by a vote of 86 to 54, with Alston, Carter and Arora voting against it.

The fourth amendment targeting the marriage bill, introduced by Del. Andrew Serafini (R-Washington County) called for changing the bill’s name from the Civil Marriage Protection Act to the “Same-Sex Marriage Act.” Serafini said his proposed name was a more accurate description of what the bill would do.

The amendment was defeated by a vote of 85 to 52. Alston voted for it, Arora voted against it, and Carter did not cast a vote on the amendment.

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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