March 11, 2011 at 2:48 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Md. marriage bill dead for year

Delegate Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City) (Blade photo by Michael Key)

A bill to legalize same-sex marriage in Maryland died in the Maryland House of Delegates Friday after supporters determined they did not have the votes to pass it and sent it back to committee without taking a vote.

The decision to return the bill to the House Judiciary Committee, which approved it two weeks ago by a one-vote margin, came after an impassioned two-and-a-half hour debate in which six of the House’s seven openly gay members urged their colleagues to support marriage equality.

“It is best to delay this historic vote until we are absolutely sure we have the votes to win,” Equality Maryland, a statewide LGBT group, said in a statement. “While we are disappointed the House did not vote to pass marriage equality today, we are confident we will win in the future.”

House Speaker Michael Busch (D-Anne Arundel County) said in a news conference after the debate that the bill would be brought back in 2012.

Many LGBT activists watching from the visitor’s gallery did not know of plans to pull the bill if the 71 votes needed to pass it in the 141-member House could not be obtained. Some reacted with shrieks and gasps when the House approved by voice vote a motion to “recommit” the bill to committee, with nearly all of the bill’s supporters voting “aye.”

When asked how close the vote would have been, Busch told reporters that backers of the bill believed a vote would have been “very close” but decided the best course of action would be to give wavering delegates more time to mull over the issue.

“There was a chance we could have had 71,” he said. “There was an opportunity to have 70 or 69…But I think they didn’t feel comfortable that there was the full 71 vote.”

Busch was also asked why a close vote that might have resulted in the bill’s defeat this year was ruled out if everyone agreed to bring the legislation back for a vote next year.

“In my personal opinion, I think those who felt uncomfortable might have voted no and had a tough time coming back and voting yes,” he said.

According to Busch and others familiar with the House of Delegates, no more than about 10 delegates would likely be swayed to change their vote one way or the other. If a vote were held Friday and some voted no, they might be reluctant to vote for the bill next year out of fear of being accusing of being a “flip-flopper,” some of the bill’s supporters said.

Equality Maryland board member Daryl Carrington agreed with Busch’s rationale for avoiding a vote.

“We did not want to have a negative vote on the record,” said Carrington. “And we believe that it gives us the time we need. It was a strategic step to give us the additional time we need to get this done.”

Supporters lined up enough votes to defeat two amendments considered hostile to the bill, raising the possibility that backers of the bill might have enough support to pass the measure.

One of the amendments, introduced by Del. John Olszewski (D-Baltimore County), called for expanding a provision in the bill that allows religious institutions to refuse to provide goods and services and accommodations related to the “promotion of marriage” if doing so violates the institution’s religious beliefs.

The bill limits the exemptions to “religious programs, counseling, educational courses, summer camps, and retreats.” Oloszewski’s amendment would have expanded the exemption to include any program or activity operated by a religious institution, even if such products or services were offered to the general public.

The amendment was defeated by voice vote.

The second amendment, offered by Del. Cheryl Glenn (D-Baltimore City), called for eliminating the bill’s marriage provisions entirely and turning it into a civil unions bill.  Her amendment also went down to defeat by a voice vote. When she asked for a roll call vote to verify the vote breakdown, Busch used his authority as speaker to refuse the roll call vote request.

Del. Emmett Burns (D-Baltimore County), an opponent of the bill, argued during the debate that the bill’s supporters were incorrectly comparing their quest for marriage equality and other LGBT rights initiatives with the black civil rights movement.

He said same-sex marriage had nothing to do with civil rights, adding that it would “validate and uphold the homosexual lifestyle,” which is contrary to his religious beliefs.

“I am a black man. I cannot change my color,” he said. “Those who are gay can disguise their propensity. They can disguise who they are.”

Del. Keiffer Mitchell (D-Baltimore City), a supporter of the marriage bill, took exception to Burns’ interpretation of the civil rights movement. Noting that he is the grandson of nationally acclaimed African-American civil rights activist Clarence Mitchell, Keiffer Mitchell said he was honored that the LGBT community and other minorities have modeled their own struggles for equality on the black civil rights movement.

Although the LGBT civil rights struggle is not the same as the black civil rights struggle, it is still falls under the category of civil rights.

“When we deny people equality under the law it is a civil rights issue,” he said.

Lesbian Delegates Heather Mizeur, Anne Kaiser, and Bonnie Cullison, each a Democrat from Montgomery County; lesbian Del. Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City); and gay Del. Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City) each gave impassioned floor speeches about how legalizing same-sex marriage would impact them.

While not mentioning fellow delegates opposing the bill by name, each said they were troubled and, in some cases, hurt and offended by opponents’ claims that allowing them to marry would harm children, take away religious rights, and damage the institution of marriage.

Mizeur told of her own struggle as a devout Catholic with her sexual orientation as a teenager and young adult. She said she has long since reconciled her identity as a lesbian and devoted Christian, saying she believes deeply that God accepts her for who she is.

Noting she and her partner have been married for five years, Mizeur said, “What we’re asking for is equal protection under the law…You can still choose to believe we are immoral.”

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

  • It’s sooo nice that Democrats all believe in equality, freedom, and fairness (bleh!! puke!). Politics is also, ultimately, about principles and integrity. So if the Democratic Party operatives refuse to stand by principles of equality, then progressives seriously need to step away and just start our own political party. If other countries can do this and survive, then so can the United States of America. Enough fear already. It will probably even help, in speeding up debate about all sorts of issues. Shelving our problems leaves us all defenseless. It is un-american and it is WRONG.

  • Clearly it is time to target the Democratic Delegates who betrayed us for defeat in the next primary season. We need solid Progressive Democrats who support LGBT rights not bigots who vote with Republicans to deprive us of our equality. Delegates such as: Aisha Braveboy, (D-Prince George’s County), Jill Carter, (D-Baltimore City), Tiffany Alston, (D-Prince George’s County), Sam Arora (D-Montgomery County), and John Donoghue, (D-Washington County). Of course there are several other Democrats who are working against us and Equality Maryland and other Pro-LGBT groups need to start naming the traitors now so we can replace them with good Democrats. Obviously, the GOP is against us, so that goes without saying.

  • I come from a state where the voters amended the state constitution to forever prevent marriage equality. I worry that if you go too far too fast you could trigger a voter backlash and end up with a similar constitutional amendment in Maryland. In every state where marriage equality has ever gone to a referendum, the voters have always voted against it.

    Has Equality Maryland considered passing a “marriage in everything but the name” bill first, and then go for full marriage equality later? How many of the Democratic delegates that were named might be willing to vote for a “marriage in everything but the name” bill now?

  • You bitches would be better off thinking how to change the attitudes in people in Maryland about gay marriage. Once marriage equality finally becomes law, the asswipes against it will take it to the ballot box for a vote.

    It may take a generation or two more before a majority supports marriage equality. It will happen but not as fast as we would like it. Some of us may need walkers to walk down the aisle by then and that’s sad!

    • Every single person in America can hate me, despise my boyfriend, believe I am a “sinner” and we STILL have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I do NOT need to beg anyone to please “like” me and “vote for me” in order to be granted civil rights. It’s NOT a prerequisite, despite what the HRC tries to argue.

  • @ Bruce in Missouri:

    “Has Equality Maryland considered passing a “marriage in everything but the name” bill first, and then go for full marriage equality later?”

    No, ‘Equality’ Maryland only believes in so-called incremental progress for trans people.

  • Once again denied the basic civil right to ________. These representatives from Baltimore need to look at their motivation for being anti same-sex marriage. Even more we need to look at why we elected these losers. Oust them and start over.

  • I also think the Democrats avoided the vote, not because they wanted to avoid a possible failure, (which happened anyway) but because they didn’t want to draw attention to their own homophobic Democrat members who were voting against us. God knows that would hurt fundraising and actually help us figure out which of the Dems are actually with us and which ones are stabbing us in the back. Make no mistake, we need to replace non-supportive Dems in the assembly by running Pro-LGBT candidates against the Anti-LGBT Dems in next year’s primaries. We know of at least 7-10 Dems we should be lining up opponents for right now, why isn’t Equality Maryland doing something along this line? They should forget about sucking up to the Democratic Party at the expense of LGBT rights and start reminding them that they need us more than we need them. If they can’t take the hint, cut them off financially and only work for LGBT candidates and candidates with proven records of support.

  • This is what the Victory Fund does. Stop byatching and donate money directly to them. BTW Jill Carter was a “For” vote.

    Apparently, in P.G. County, finding pro-marriage equality delegates is not enough. We need to find candidates that are smart enough to understand the legislative process and what civil rights are and that just because you have a homophobic majority who want to Christian-ize the entire State of Maryland as your constituents does not mean that you vote that way. Can you imagine someone explaining 60 years ago as Delegate Alston has today that “Well, I’m for the right of blacks to be able to go to the same schools, but I have to stay where my redneck racist constituents are and they just aren’t into desegregation. So wait for the courts to help you.”

    We need to replace Emmett Burns just as an act of spite.

  • So much for the self righteous people of color who only cared about their rights. Once they got to use the water fountain everyone else can go to hell. After this display from subhumans like Emit Burns I am now in favor of a return to slavery for people like him.

  • I am a human rights activist who has particpated in virtually every major as well as many social reform movements since and including the 1960’s. This includes the Black civil rights movement. I am also a Stonewall veteran.

    PETER THE SAINT: Along with some others, I have questioned the wisdom of placing all of the LGBT movement’s eggs in one Democrat policitcal basket. A democratic socialist and one of only a handful of New Leftists who supported LGBT rights, I have no objection to the establishment of a third party in principle.
    But US is not a parliamentary democracy and past similar efforts have failed.
    TIM: It might also be wise poltical strategy to reach out to Republicans not only for this effort but for future ones on behalf of LGBT a/w/a other groups. Historically, parties have not avoided what they believe will be favorable outcomes in order to protect dissenters within their own party. Contrary to inaccurate extrapolations from the Kinsey study, Lesbians and Gays comprise only 3% of the population which would not be enough to determine most election outcomes. One-quarter of Lesbians and Gays vote Republican and one-quarter more would also do so were they not single issue voters when it comes to L&G rights (if Bisexuals were included, the numbers would be much larger, but Bi’s are discriminated against in the so-called LGbt rights movement. Furthermore, virtually all Bi’s and Trans along with most Black, Latino and Asian L&G as well as the majority of state LGBT organizations do not believe SSM should be the primary movement issue.
    BRUCE IN MISSOURI: You are correct in stating that the “marriage only” strategy has been a dismal failure. In every jurisdicition in which domestic partnership has has been the issue, we have been successful. The original architects of spousal rights for L&G (from 30 years ago) oppose a “marriage only” strategy. Harvard Law Professor William Eskridge, the dean of gay rights law, has adovcated a civil unions strategy for both practical as well as legal reasons.
    EL DORADO: I agree with you on all points. Nate Silver, a NYT statistician who is Gay, estimates that same sex marriage will be won on a stated-by-state basis in 20 years. The feminist movement is still fighting a culture war over the abortion issue 35 years after Roe v. Wade. CUNY Government Professor Dan Pinello, a SSM advocate, did a study after the Prop 8 campaign which showed that “coming out” is not a factor in voting on such issues. We need a new strategy.
    KAT: I have worked in several successful political campaigns to elect radical-liberal officials in my home state of New York. But most of my poltical work has taken place outside of electoral politics which means I do not have to be an apologist for any party and can afford to be an absolutist. However, the twin pillars of electoral politics are compromise and incrementalism — in all things. Though not trans, I have been advocating for trans rights since Stonewall and during my time at the Task Force which was notoriously trans and bi phobic during the 1970’s and 1980’s. Not much has changed in those regards since.

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