ANNAPOLIS — With a vow of wait ‘til next year, supporters of same-sex marriage said they were disappointed but not discouraged by the failure of the historic legislation to win approval in the House of Delegates on Friday.
The reason for their optimism comes from the Senate, where — for the first time — a chamber of the Maryland General Assembly voted to permit gay and lesbian couples to lawfully wed.
If the House had followed suit, Gov. Martin O’Malley said, he would have signed the measure to make Maryland the sixth state in addition to Washington, D.C., to permit same sex-marriage.
Sen. Jamin B. “Jamie” Raskin, who led the fight for the marriage equality bill on the Senate floor, vowed to reintroduce the measure next year.
“It’s incredibly encouraging how far we’ve come,” said Raskin, D-Montgomery. “We had remarkable progress this year.”
Raskin added that the House was “heartbreakingly close” to the 71 votes needed for passage.
Echoing Raskin, Del. Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., D-Baltimore, said future generations “will look back on this day and say, ‘What was all the fuss about?’”
House leaders moved to return the bill to the Judiciary Committee after it became apparent there were not enough votes to pass it. House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, said the measure will return next year.
It’s still unclear how many votes supporters had, though lawmakers said they had confirmed pledges from at least 69 members. Del. Heather Mizeur described the margin as “razor thin.”
“We’re a couple short of where we needed to be to assure that we were going to win and we didn’t want to post a vote on the board where we could have come up short,” said Mizeur, a Montgomery Democrat and one of seven openly gay lawmakers in the House.
“We’re going to keep working on our colleagues until we have those absolute commitments firm in hand and take it to the bank,” Mizeur said.
Busch said House leaders will use the time to craft a new bill that addresses issues lawmakers have about protections for religious groups. He estimates roughly one-third of the chamber’s 98 Democrats opposed the measure, but only about 10 lawmakers could probably be swayed one way or the other.
“As of next year people will have more information and determine what direction they want to take,” Busch said. “I think you’ll find a final conviction for everyone on that issue next year.”
Others, though, remain just as determined to ensure that Maryland does not permit gay and lesbian couples to lawfully wed. Many of the opponents — who expressed pleasant surprise at the bill’s defeat Friday — were already gearing up for a petition drive to bring the issue to Maryland voters via a referendum in November 2012, assuming that the bill would be passed and enacted.
“In the Maryland legislature, it’s not over until it’s over,” said Sen. E.J. Pipkin, an opponent of same-sex marriage. “Hopefully, this is done for a while.”
Reintroduction of same-sex marriage legislation in 2012 would also rekindle the blazing battle that erupted this session between lobbying groups on opposite sides of the issue.
Equality Maryland, a gay rights group that supports same-sex marriage, issued a statement within minutes of the House’s withdrawal of the legislation pointing toward 2012. The group pledged to increase the intensity of its telephone drives, letter-writing campaigns and meetings with legislators in support of the legislation.
“My heart goes out to the many Marylanders who — like me — will go home tonight to their families and continue to be treated as second-class citizens, but we must remind ourselves that this is just one battle in a longstanding struggle that we will win,” Morgan Meneses-Sheets, the group’s executive director, said in a statement. “The march toward marriage equality will continue, and our resolve and determination have never been stronger.”
But the National Organization for Marriage, which opposes same-sex marriage efforts across the United States, said it “will continue the fight next year if [supporters] try again.”
“Kudos to those brave Maryland delegates who defied the arm-twisting and political pressures to do the right thing: listen to your constituents,” Brian Brown, the group’s president, said in a statement.
The Senate had approved the measure, Senate Bill 116, on a vote of 25 to 21 on Feb. 24.
In addition to Washington, D.C., same-sex marriages are legally performed in Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont.
Currently, Maryland recognizes as valid within the state same-sex marriages lawfully performed in other jurisdictions.
Maggie Clark and David Saleh Rauf of the Capital News Service contributed to this article.