The Maryland House of Delegates is preparing for a close vote on a bill to legalize same-sex marriage on Friday.
The vote is expected just days after the measure was moved to the floor following approval by a joint committee on Tuesday.
Gov. Martin O’Malley introduced the Civil Marriage Protection Act as part of his legislative package. A similar measure passed the Senate but died in the House last year after supporters determined they didn’t have sufficient votes for passage in the lower chamber.
“Today’s vote on the Civil Marriage Protection Act is a significant step forward for the passage of this bill in Maryland,” O’Malley said in a statement after Tuesday’s committee vote. “Together, we will continue our work to ensure that our State protects religious freedom and provides equal protection under the law for all Marylanders.”
The Judiciary Committee and the Health & Government Operations Committee heard joint testimony last week on the marriage bill. The committees voted jointly over several hours late Tuesday afternoon. The vote was 25-18 in favor, with one abstention, Del. Sam Arora (D-Mont. Co.), a former supporter of the bill.
“We just took another step toward civil marriage equality becoming a reality in Maryland; the momentum is with us,” the group Marylanders for Marriage Equality said in a statement. “We thank all supportive Delegates for their leadership on this very important issue that will improve the lives of thousands of Maryland families and help put the state on the right side of history.”
Del. Kathleen Dumais (D-Montgomery County), who serves as vice chair of the Judiciary Committee, said the marriage bill was scheduled to be taken up on the House floor on Thursday for a second-reading vote following an informal first-reading of the bill on the floor on Wednesday. All bills are open to proposed amendments during the second reading. She said a final, third reading, debate and vote on the bill was expected to take place in the House on Friday.
“I feel positive that it will pass the House this year,” she told the Blade on Wednesday.
Although supporters hailed the joint vote by the two committees to approve legislation to legalize same-sex marriage, a breakdown of the vote shows that the bill lost among Judiciary Committee members by a vote of 11-10, with the one abstention by Arora. The vote breakdown shows that Health and Government Operations Committee members voted to approve the bill by a margin of 15-7, with one member absent.
The large margin of approval by the HGO Committee clearly put the bill over the top in the combined vote. The development confirms speculation that House Speaker Michael Busch (D-Anne Arundel County) gave the HGO Committee jurisdiction over the bill along with the Judiciary panel this year because he knew in advance that the Judiciary Committee lacked the votes to approve a marriage bill.
The Judiciary panel approved the bill last year by a one-vote margin, with Chairman Joseph Vallario (D-Calvert & Prince George’s County) voting for the bill. Vallario voted against the bill at Tuesday’s joint committee session. Arora also voted for the bill in committee last year but made it clear that he would not vote for it on the House floor.
His abstention this year highlights the surprise and disappointment among many LGBT activists in Maryland who supported Arora’s 2010 election campaign in which he ran on a platform of support for a same-sex marriage equality bill. Last year he initially signed on as a co-sponsor for the bill before he announced that based on religious beliefs he could no longer support the legislation.
No vote was taken in the joint committee session on a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, but the joint panel voted down five proposed amendments to the Civil Marriage Protection Act, including:
• An amendment to eliminate all sex education in public schools, which failed 26-17;
• An amendment calling for parental consent before using materials that address “non-traditional families” in schools, which failed 27-16;
• An amendment to prohibit minors from marrying someone of the same sex, which failed 26-17;
• An amendment to change the effective date of the bill to Jan. 1, 2013, which failed 24-21;
• And an amendment to change the bill from marriage to civil unions, which failed 27-17.
In a related development, Del. Robert Costa, a Republican from Anne Arundel County, announced Tuesday that he will vote for the marriage bill.
“I think it’s not a state function to decide who can marry,” the Annapolis Capital quoted him as saying. “I do what I believe is right for people. I don’t think that matters. I represent constituents and not a party.”
The announcement drew quick praise from LGBT advocates.
“The fact that Del. Costa is going to support this bill publicly is really demonstrating the momentum for this and how quickly the momentum is growing,” Equality Maryland Executive Director Carrie Evans told the Blade. “It’s significant like Sen. Allan Kittleman’s vote was last year. We know it isn’t a partisan issue. We finally see evidence that it’s not. Del. Costa represents a fairly rural district and he’s with us.”
And in another development, a one-time supporter of the same-sex marriage bill who startled LGBT advocates last year by saying she was backing away from her support told the Blade that she has yet to decide how she will vote on the bill this year.
Del. Jill Carter (D-Baltimore) told the Blade last week that she’s concerned that some news media outlets incorrectly reported last year that she voted against the same-sex marriage bill in committee.
“In fact, I voted for it,” she said. “I’m not ready to say what I’ll do this year.” She voted for the bill in committee Tuesday.
Carter spoke to the Blade outside a House of Delegates hearing room in Annapolis on Feb. 10 in which two committees conducted a joint hearing on both the Civil Marriage Protection Act, which would allow same-sex couples to marry, and a separate bill calling for a state constitutional amendment to restrict marriage to a union only between a man and a woman.
Similar to last year, political pundits in the state believe the Maryland Senate is poised to pass the marriage bill and reject the proposed constitutional amendment.
But observers say the marriage bill’s prospects in the House of Delegates are uncertain. Supporters say they hope to persuade the small number of delegates that declined to back the bill last year and who are needed for the bill’s passage this year to change their minds and vote for it.