Some legislators have change of heart on same-sex marriage bill
Committees have enough sponsors to gain majority
ANNAPOLIS In past years, Prince George's Del. Justin D. Ross didn't want to support legislation that would grant marriage rights to same-sex couples.
But this year, he's had a change of heart and has signed on as a sponsor of the bill that could make Maryland the sixth state to allow gay marriage. Same-sex marriage also is legal in Washington, D.C.
Ross' turnaround on the issue is not unique. In fact, backers of same-sex marriage apparently have enough support in committee in both chambers of the legislature for the measure to come up for floor votes this session.
Ross (D-Dist. 22) of Hyattsville, who said he always has supported civil unions for gay and lesbian couples but was hesitant to support full marriage laws, said conversations with his daughter about friends with gay parents have changed his viewpoint.
"I coach a little girl on the soccer team with my daughter; she has two moms," he said. "It became so abundantly clear just the inequity to her parents and also to her. It became impossible to ignore the fact that my little girl and her parents should have the same rights as the other little girl and her parents."
Besides Ross, who has served as a delegate since 2003, several other converts now support a same-sex marriage bill in the General Assembly, said Darrell Carrington, a member of the board of directors of Equality Maryland, the group behind the legislation.
"Folks are clearly seeing this as the time to step up and be on the right side of history," he said. "It is going to be incumbent upon people to be able to look back 20 years from now and find out where were you on this. Where were you on the subject and to have to talk to your children and say, I stood for equality.'"
In the past, Ross said he had to work to convince constituents of the merits of a civil unions bill.
"I was trying to appease a proportion of my district that are just sort of uncomfortable with the notion," he said. "I had worked hard in a number of the churches in my district to get people to a place where they would support civil unions."
Earlier this month, Sen. Allan H. Kittleman (R-Dist. 9) of West Friendship stepped down as minority leader after he called for the state to legalize civil unions. He said he planned to introduce legislation to that effect, but hasn't done so.
Del. Eric M. Bromwell (D-Dist. 8) of Perry Hall, a first-time sponsor of the same-sex marriage bill, said the culture of the General Assembly has changed in recent years as more openly gay members join its ranks. Seven members of the House and Senate have come out publicly.
"I would probably think that having members of the General Assembly who are very well-respected people that you work with every day, that you have relationships with, I think it makes it difficult to say to them that you don't deserve the same rights that I do. I think that might have something to do with it," Bromwell said.
Although some argue the bill's time has come for the first time it has lead sponsorship from majority leaders in both houses it still must move though committees in both the Senate and the House, which has not happened since the current version was first introduced in 2008.
But six of the 11 members of the Senate's Judicial Proceedings Committee have signed on as co-sponsors, an indication that the bill likely will pass out of committee. In the House, 12 members of the Judiciary Committee, also a majority, are sponsors.
Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Dist. 16) of Bethesda, chairman of Judicial Proceedings, said the bill likely will get a vote sometime in February.
"It's always [been] a vote or two short in Judicial Proceedings," he said. "This is the first year it looks like it might have a majority."
Like Ross, Del. Shawn Z. Tarrant (D-Dist. 40) of Baltimore, a member who previously said he would be unable to support a same-sex marriage bill, has changed his mind in recent years.
"I think people see it as at least as a foregone conclusion that it's going to come to the House floor," he said.
Del. Donald H. Dwyer Jr. (R-Dist. 31) of Glen Burnie welcomes a floor debate on the bill, which he said has become more about the ability of same-sex couples to use the term "marriage" than the rights afforded by it.
"Personally, I'm looking forward to the floor debate," he said. "I'm looking forward to the public awareness of the issue."
Dwyer said he will introduce a bill this year to bring same-sex unions to referendum defining marriage as solely between a man and a woman as he has since 2005.
According to a fiscal review of last year's bill, state spending could go up as a result of the legislation because of additional retirement benefits paid to state employees and payroll taxes.