January 24, 2012 at 7:33 am EDT | by Staff reports
O’Malley introduces new version of marriage bill

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) on Monday night introduced a revised version of a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage, taking the lead role in urging the state’s General Assembly to approve the measure.

O’Malley told reporters at a briefing on Monday that the revised bill would make religious protections “a little clearer” than what they had been in last year’s bill, according to the Baltimore Sun.

Sources familiar with the governor’s office have said O’Malley would likely follow the path of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who took charge of that state’s same-sex marriage bill and negotiated with skeptical Republicans to garner enough votes to win its approval last year.

Cuomo reportedly persuaded LGBT advocates to accept new language in the New York bill that allowed greater exemptions for religious organizations and businesses that were reluctant to provide accommodations or services for same-sex marriage ceremonies, such as catering facilities.

O’Malley invited advocates supporting the marriage bill, including same-sex couples, to a breakfast at the governor’s mansion in Annapolis on Tuesday morning. He was scheduled to join supporters on the steps of the governor’s mansion in a news conference at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Marylanders for Marriage Equality, a coalition of LGBT rights groups and labor, religious, and civil liberties organizations, hailed O’Malley’s introduction of the bill as a major boost in the effort to secure its approval.

“The governor’s bill not only protects but strengthens religious freedom,” said Rev. Dr. John Deckenback, conference minister for the United Church of Christ’s Central Atlantic Conference. “The governor believes – as I do – that protecting religious freedom is critically important.”

Carrie Evans, executive director of Equality Maryland, a statewide LGBT organization, said “thousands of families across our state are grateful for the governor’s actions today,” adding, “He has given the fight for marriage equality a huge jolt in momentum.”

O’Malley’s introduction of the bill on Monday came one week after Michael Busch (D), Speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates, announced he would send the bill to two committees this year. His action was viewed by some political observers as a sign that the bill lacked enough support in the House Judiciary Committee, which approved the measure last year by a razor-thin one-vote margin.

The committee sent the bill to the House floor, but supporters sent it back to committee rather than risk a vote that they thought they could not win, killing the bill for the year.

O’Malley and supporters of the bill in the House of Delegates and Senate say they are hopeful this year that the two bodies will approve the bill. Opponents have vowed to bring the bill before the voters in a referendum should it pass in the General Assembly.

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