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Senate adopts same-sex marriage bill

Sen. Richard Madaleno, D-Montgomery Co., the Senate's only openly gay member, speaks in support of the gay marriage bill on the state Senate floor

ANNAPOLIS — The state Senate on Thursday night passed legislation that would allow same-sex couples to marry in Maryland.

The vote was 25 to 21, with Sen. Joanne C. Benson, D-Prince George’s, not voting.

Attention now shifts to the House of Delegates, where the Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing Friday on same-sex marriage legislation.

Gov. Martin O’Malley has said he would sign the bill if it is passed by both the House and Senate. However, a leading opponent of same-sex marriage said enactment would spur a referendum drive which will bring the issue before Maryland voters in November 2012.

Sen. Nancy Jacobs, R-Cecil and Harford, said she has already met with people around the country who have mounted successful petition efforts.

“You will see it [the issue] again and you will see it at the ballot box,” Jacobs said prior to the Senate’s 6:20 p.m. vote. “We are going to take it to referendum.”

After the measure passed, Jacobs said, “A lot of churches are going to be working. A lot of national groups will be helping us.”

But Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert and Prince George’s, who opposes same-sex marriage, predicted after the vote that a referendum would fail.

The Senate vote occurred after about three hours of debate, which was cut short by a successful cloture motion introduced by the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Robert J. Garagiola, D-Montgomery.

Equality Maryland, a gay rights group, praised the bill’s passage but said more work must be done.

“Today we celebrate; tomorrow we focus our attention on HB 175,” Morgan Meneses-Sheets, the group’s executive director, said in a statement.

But the Maryland Catholic Conference assailed the vote, saying it was an “irresponsible decision to dismantle our state’s definition of marriage” and calling on the House of Delegates to oppose the bill.

During the Senate debate on the proposed Civil Marriage Protection Act, supporters hailed the measure as a long overdue effort to bring equality to gays and lesbians in loving and committed relationships. But opponents decried Senate Bill 116 as upsetting the time-honored tradition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

Sen. Edward R. Reilly, who opposed the bill, said he had received calls from supporters of same-sex marriage who called him “prejudiced,” “bigoted,” “closed-minded” and a “reactionary.’

“This is not about discrimination,” said Reilly, R-Anne Arundel. “This is about core values.’

Benson, the only senator not present for the final vote, said during debate that her opposition is “grounded” in her religious beliefs.

“Marriage really is designed for people who love each other and want to have children,” she said. “People of the same sex cannot produce children.”

Sen. Bryan W. Simonaire, R.-Anne Arundel, said passage of the bill would become known as “the day traditional marriage died in Maryland.”

But the Senate’s only openly gay member, who spoke movingly during debate of the man he had married in a church ceremony a decade ago, took a more measured view.

“I think the vast majority of Marylanders will wake up the day after this law goes into effect and find nothing has changed,” said Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., D-Montgomery.

The legislation would remove Maryland’s statutory limitation on marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

Clergy members would remain free not to officiate at same-sex weddings if doing so would violate their religious beliefs. Religious-affiliated organizations would be permitted to refuse to provide services and goods, such as catering and their dining halls, for same-sex marriage ceremonies and celebrations.

The bill would also exempt religious groups from having to provide educational programs, counseling services, retreats or insurance coverage for same-sex couples.

Sen. Karen S. Montgomery, another supporter, recalled when Maryland law prohibited men and women of different races to marry because it ran counter to traditional notions of marriage. That law and similar statutes throughout the country were found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in its 1967 decision, Loving v. Virginia.

Sen. E.J. Pipkin, R-Upper Shore, said the state should not adopt same-sex marriage before trying “civil unions,” which would permit gay and lesbian pairs to have the same rights as married couples but without the marriage certificate.

“It’s too far, too fast,” Pipkin said.

Civil unions for same-sex couples were legalized in Illinois last month and Hawaii on Wednesday. Also on Wednesday, Attorney General Eric Holder announced the Obama administration would no longer defend the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Like Maryland’s current law, DOMA defines marriage as being between one man and one woman.

Same-sex marriages are legally performed in Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont as well as the District of Columbia.

Maryland currently recognizes same-sex marriages legally performed in those jurisdictions.

Daily Record reporter Nicholas Sohr contributed to this story.

2 comments

  1. UM…..how are churches “going to be working” to gain a referendum????I thought separation of church and state meant the church would stay out of my life. And, excuse me, but if the church is involved in political activities, why do they get to keep their tax exempt status? I think any church who choses to become political in forcing their religious views on others should lose their tax exemption and help pay some of our huge deficit.
    Additionally, it is a sad day when our elected officials vote descrimination based on their religious views of the world…..you all say keep us in the closet, but you parade your religion and mythology on those who believe differently then you.
    Lastly, the argument that marriage is for child bearing is ridiculous. Many hetero marriages have nothing to do with child bearing, and some go to major lengths to use technology to cause them to bear fruit in a barren womb, then seek to keep lesbians from using the same technology in the same breath. Homosexuality does not keep couples from raising children either.
    Please don’t align this great country with the theocrats, we can see how well that is working in the middle east.

  2. What about the jobs and the economy? Hello.