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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 24, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 08
Maryland passes marriage equality bill, governor will sign it
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Maryland passes marriage equality bill, governor will sign it

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The Maryland Senate passed its marriage equality bill on February 23. The vote was 25-22.

The state's House of Delegates passed the measure on February 17 by a vote of 72 to 67.

Governor Martin O'Malley, who made the bill his number one legislative priority, has already promised to sign it into law.

When O'Malley signs the bill, Maryland will become the eighth state to allow Gay and Lesbian couples to marry.

'I know today we are going to make history because we are going to take another important step towards embracing every family in the state of Maryland,' Sen. Richard Madaleno, who is openly Gay, said on the floor before the vote.

Under the terms of an amendment introduced by Republicans, no same-sex marriages can take place until January 1, 2013.

Now that the bill has passed, opponents of marriage equality can start gathering signatures to bring the new law to the ballot in November for an up-or-down vote. Some 55,736 signatures are needed, 3% of the total number cast in the last gubernatorial election.

Church groups and conservatives have already said they plan to start the petition drive.

Under Maryland law, one third of the signatures need to be submitted to the State Board of Elections by May 31, and the rest by June 30.

A marriage equality bill had passed the Maryland Senate last year, but it never came to the floor of the House for a vote. O'Malley said then that he would sign the bill, but this year he made it the centerpiece of his legislative agenda.

The final vote confirmed the prediction of Senate Democrats who had said all along that they would keep their three-vote majority.

'I believe the 25 votes that we had last year will hold,' Senator Jamie Raskin told AP reporters ahead of the vote.

The vote in the House was touch-and-go, however.

Of 98 Democrats in the House, as many as 30 were reportedly reluctant to support marriage equality, mostly more conservative Democrats known as Blue Dogs, and African-Americans from districts where churches have a huge influence in their communities.

In the end, two Republicans, three Blue Dogs, and two African-American delegates, none of them initially supportive, voted for the measure.

In interviews, several of those delegates said that a key change from last year that won their support was language protecting religious institutions from being forced to perform marriages.

'People believe that it's a sin for a homosexual to be married, but who are they to judge?' said Robert Costa, one of the Republicans who voted for the bill. 'It's up to God, not government.'

John Olszewski, a Democrat initially opposed, said the religious exemptions made him feel comfortable enough to vote for the bill.

'Denying basic rights to folks just isn't the right thing for us to be doing,' he said.

Some delegates said they were aware that their political careers were on the line.

'This is the civil rights issue of our generation,' Democrat Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. said.

'I've heard all types of threats, that in 2014 at the ballot box, there would be revenge. But when that day comes, I know that for the seven openly Gay colleagues, if they are able to have the same rights as my wife and I have, then I know that my green vote was the right vote.'

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