Same-sex marriage tops O’Malley’s legislative agenda -- Gazette.Net







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ANNAPOLIS — With what he is calling a more explicit protection of religious freedoms, Gov. Martin O’Malley has introduced a bill to legalize gay marriage, a cornerstone of his legislative package.

O’Malley introduced the same-sex marriage bill Monday evening along with a slate of other measures, including bills to develop a wind farm off the state’s coast, create regulations on the use of septic systems and increase the tax residents pay on water use.

His legislative package, however, did not include a proposal to raise the state’s gasoline tax, which could come at a later date, he said.

The governor said he hopes the same-sex marriage bill, which he said clarifies protections for religious organizations that don’t wish to recognize or perform same-sex unions, will find enough support in the House of Delegates, where it stalled last year.

“We don’t want government to define sacraments, but we do expect our government to defend rights equally under the law,” O’Malley told reporters during a news conference Tuesday morning.

Opponents of the bill have vowed to take the measure to referendum in the 2012 general election if it passes.

Del. Neil C. Parrott (R-Dist. 2B) of Hagerstown, who championed a petition drive last year to bring a law that grants tuition to illegal immigrants to referendum, said he is confident the law again will fail in the House and that the governor’s promise to protect religious organizations won’t be enough to change the minds of opponents.

“First of all, that’s just hand dressing,” Parrott said of the governor’s proposal to increase protections for religious groups. “That is not going to [hold] up as we move forward, and he knows that. That can be repealed next year in another provision.”

The governor’s wind power proposal and septic system regulations revisit measures that failed to gain traction in the legislature last year.

This year’s versions of those bills are different in that the wind power bill would limit the cost to ratepayers, while the septic regulation plan would follow the recommendations of a committee that suggested the governor and legislature create a tiered system to determine which parts of the state qualify to install new septic systems.

O’Malley did not indicate Monday when he expected to introduce a gas tax proposal, but did say a plan to generate revenue to pay for transportation projects would come at a later date.

“We could support and create another 10,000 jobs if we find the will to substantially fulfill the recommendations of that Blue Ribbon Commission that said we should invest another $700 [million] to $800 million in our transportation infrastructure,” O’Malley said.

In November, the commission suggested the General Assembly approve an increase to the state’s 23.5 cent-per-gallon gasoline tax, raising the fee by 15 cents during the next three years.

Earlier in the week, Majority Leader Del. Kumar P. Barve (D-Dist. 17) of Gaithersburg said the gas tax proposal was losing support from lawmakers in the Washington, D.C. suburbs, although he recanted Monday evening, saying he now believes such a measure would have enough votes to pass the House.