Proponents of legislation to allow same-sex marriage in Maryland say it has more support in the House than last year, thanks to additional exemptions for religious groups and more visible backing from Gov. Martin O’Malley.
In 2011, the proposal narrowly passed the Senate before dying without a vote in the House, but supporters say the landscape is different this year. Now, the retooled bill includes additional language to exempt religious organizations from having to provide services to same-sex couples and carries the governor’s name.
The results already are showing, according to Del. Heather Mizeur (D-Dist. 20) of Takoma Park, who said that a number of delegates who were “no” votes on last year’s bill are expected to vote for it this time around.
“We’re keeping silent about who those votes are,” said Mizeur, who also declined to give a number of the switched votes. “[But] progress is being made.”
Lisa Polyak, board chairwoman of Equality Maryland, a Baltimore-based nonprofit that has lobbied in support of the bill, said polling data showed a shift in favor of same-sex marriage in the state over the past several years, including a recent Washington Post poll showing 50 percent of Marylanders now support it. Polyak expects that trend to be reflected in the House this year.
The push for same-sex marriage also could gain momentum from Senate approval this week in Washington state for similar legislation. The measure there is expected to pass that state’s House of Representatives as early as next week.
Passage in Washington would position Maryland to become the eighth state, not including the District of Columbia, to approve such a measure.
Some House of Delegates members, however, were not convinced that passage is assured.
Religious groups opposed to the measure are much more organized this year, said Del. Kevin Kelly (D-1B) of Cumberland, who voted against the legislation in the House Judiciary Committee last year.
“They did not have that unity last year,” he said.
Lobbying on either side of the issue is unlikely to have much impact because most lawmakers have made up their minds, said Del. Joseph F. Vallario (D-Dist. 27A) of Upper Marlboro, chair of the Judiciary Committee.
At a Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee hearing Tuesday, the governor touted the expanded religious protections in the legislation.
“This bill balances equal protection of individual civil marriage rights with the important protection of religious freedom for all,” O’Malley (D) said.
He was joined by a bipartisan panel of lawmakers, including Sens. Richard Madaleno (D-Dist. 18) of Kensington, Allan Kittleman (R-Dist. 9) of West Friendship and Jamie Raskin (D-Dist. 20) of Takoma Park.
Raskin, a constitutional lawyer, said the purpose of the legislation was to ensure equal protection under the law, but also to keep churches from being forced to comply with provisions that violate their faith.
A Knights of Columbus hall, for example, would not have to rent to a same-sex couple, Raskin said.
Lawmakers testified before a packed committee room, and a second room had to be opened to accommodate the overflow of supporters and opponents.
Sen. Nancy Jacobs (R-Dist. 34) of Abingdon asked O’Malley his opinion of supporters of traditional marriage, stating that recent comments on the issue weren’t beneficial to the legislative process.
O’Malley’s wife, Katie, came under fire this past week for referring to lawmakers who voted against last year’s bill as “cowards.”
The governor replied that supporters of traditional marriage, whether motivated by religious belief or not, had a right to that belief.
A rally against the bill drew hundreds to Annapolis on Monday night, including clergy from across the state and one Catholic group from Hanover, Pa. Many in attendance seized on the first lady’s comment.
Some held signs with messages like “I am not a coward,” and “Only cowards endorse the immorality of liberals.”
Frosh said the Senate committee was likely to vote on the bill within the next two weeks. The House version of the bill could get a hearing within 10 days, Vallario said Thursday.