UPDATE: The House of Delegates is currently adjourned and will reconvene at 4:30 for a third reading on the marriage bill, which may or may not be followed by a vote.
ANNAPOLIS — At 2:45 the Maryland House of Delegates adjourned after voting down three amendments to the Civil Marriage Protection Act, while adopting two amendments, including one by former marriage foe, Del. Tiffany Alston.
The Alston amendment, supported by many in the LGBT delegation, including Dels. Clippinger, Mizeur, Cullison, and Washington, as well as the bill sponsor, floor leader Del. Dumais — who spoke passionately in favor of same-sex unions throughout the debate — would make clear that the law would not go into effect until all legal challenges to the law, or any referendum process relating to the law, have been exhausted.
The amendment sparked a heated debate between Republicans and Democrats in regard to the power of the amendment to effect the referendum process and the power of the courts in intervening. Minority leader Anthony O’Donnell sought to move to special order on the bill and the amendment for an opinion on the impact from Attorney General Douglas Gansler, tabling the debate on both until Monday. The motion on the special order was handily defeated 55-79, to the chagrin of many.
The Alston amendment — which could signal a shift in support for that delegate — passed easily 81-52, easing the way for those troubled by the bill to feel more comfortable in voting in its favor.
“It was something that could add a level of comfort for some people,” Del. Washington told the Blade. “This is something that we could negotiate on.”
Though the LGBT lawmakers would not comment on whether or not they think that Alston will now support the law, after her surprise vote against in March of 2011, all indicated a hope that she’s come around.
“We believe that she is raising this in good faith,” Del. Cullison told the Blade in regard to Alston’s possible support after passage of her amendment. “And if that’s what makes her comfortable with the bill, knowing that all of the safeguards for the referendum are in place, then I hope she’ll be more comfortable with voting for the entire bill.”
“We hope it makes her feel more comfortable,” Del. Clippinger added.
On Sam Arora, Del. Clippinger hopes that he’s moved back to the side of supporting same-sex marriage, after his surprise rejection of the law in March of 2011.
“I don’t know where he stands right this second,” Del. Clippinger told the Blade. “I don’t know how he’s going to stand until I see a dot on the board.”
“But at the same time, he’s expressed some misgivings, he passed in committee, he asked questions in regard to Del. Alston’s amendment, we certainly hope that if it will help him fell more comfortable maybe that will move him along,” Clippinger added.
Del. Arora voted against the Alston amendment.
In 2010 when Sam Arora was campaigning for the House of Delegates, he was able to pull massive amounts of LGBT support and fundraising money as a result of his close ties with gay Democratic activists and his pro-same-sex marriage position, at that time. Many of his former colleagues indicated a feeling of anger and betrayal after his 2011 flip on the issue. Since that vote, Arora has been ambiguous about his stance on the current effort.
Washington County Republican Del. Andrew Serafini proposed an amendment that would push the age of consent for same-sex marriages to 18, rather than allow the same-sex marriages to adhere to the current age of consent laws that allow girls under the age of 16 to marry with parental consent and proof of pregnancy. Supporters of the same-sex marriage bill argued that it may be time to change the age of consent in Maryland, but that there ought not to be differences between same-sex and opposite sex couples, should the bill pass and get signed into law. The amendment failed 54-81.
The delegates also passed on an amendment by Washington County Republican Del. Neil C. Parrott that would allow parents to opt out of allowing their children be exposed to curriculum that they find objectionable in terms of its presentation of same-sex marriage.
“That already is the law,” Montgomery Co. Democrat, Del. Anne Kaiser, argued before the House voted down the amendment 48-73.
Prince George’s Co. Democrat, Del. Aisha Braveboy offered the amendment that same-sex marriage advocates railed hardest against. The amendments would have changed the date the law becomes effective from October 2012 to January 2013, which would prevent marriages from occurring before an expected ballot initiative vote takes place. After impassioned discussion, the amendment was passed on a 72-63 vote.
Additionally, a short debate preceded a vote on amending the bill to change the word “marriage” to “civil unions” in the law. After supporters of same-sex marriage presented evidence from around the nation where civil unions were found to be inferior to marriage in offering couples equal protection, the delegates rejected the amendment 45-78.
Yesterday we reported that the Maryland House of Delegates on Thursday put off for at least one day a scheduled debate on legislation to legalize same-sex marriage, leading some to speculate that supporters lack the votes to pass the legislation.
And in a surprise development, supporters of the Civil Marriage Protection Act agreed to accept an amendment they helped to defeat in committee earlier this week that would put off the date same-sex marriages would become legal from October of this year to January 2013 if the bill should pass.
During a brief joint-committee meeting that adjourned in less than five minutes Friday morning, the delegates opted to save debate on the amendments proposed to the bill for the Friday afternoon floor debate.
In the committee debate Thursday, supporters of the amendment, nearly all of whom opposed the bill, said it was needed to prevent same-sex marriages from being performed in Maryland before a referendum could be held to overturn the legislation should the legislature pass it.
The amendment’s backers said they did not want a situation similar to California, where same-sex marriages were performed before voters approved Proposition 8, which overturned the state’s same-sex marriage law.
During a brief debate early Thursday evening in the full House, Del. Kathleen Dumais (D-Montgomery County), the floor leader for the marriage bill, startled some supporters when she told House Speaker Michael Busch (D-Anne Arundel County) that the bill’s supporters would accept the proposal as a friendly amendment.
It then passed by voice vote.
Minutes later, Busch agreed to requests by delegates who support the marriage bill to send a flurry of proposed floor amendments to the bill to the joint Judiciary Committee and Health and Government Operations Committee so the two panels could conduct a last-minute review to begin at 11 a.m. Friday.
Busch announced that the full House would resume debate over the amendments after it goes back into session at 12:30 p.m. Friday.
It could not be immediately determined whether a vote would take place Friday on the bill itself.
Dumais and spokespersons for Marylanders for Marriage Equality and one of its coalition partners, Equality Maryland, couldn’t be immediately reached for comment Thursday night.
News of the delay in debate on the bill and the approval of the amendment to put off the effective date of legalizing same-sex marriages came several hours after Del. Wade Kach (R-Baltimore County) announced he would vote for the bill.
His announcement boosted the hopes of the bill’s supporters that other Republicans would follow Kach, enabling backers to attain the 71 delegates needed to pass the bill.
Shortly after midnight, Marylanders for Marriage Equality issued a statement announcing that two more delegates whose position on the bill was uncertain had declared their support for the bill – Pamela Beidle (D-Anne Arundel County) and John Olszewski (D-Baltimore County).
Additional reporting by Phil Reese