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Senate could vote Thursday night on same-sex marriage bill

State Sen. Allan Kittleman, R-Howard Co., speaks in support of the gay marriage bill as State Sen. Nancy Jacobs, R-Harford Co., sits at left, on the state Senate floor.

ANNAPOLIS – The state Senate resumed debate Thursday morning on legislation that would allow same-sex couples to marry in Maryland, then recessed for the afternoon with plans to reconvene at 5:30.

A vote on the Civil Marriage Protection Act could come Thursday night, said Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller Jr., D-Prince George’s and Calvert.

The morning’s debate followed familiar lines: Proponents hailed it as a long-overdue effort to bring equality to gays and lesbians in loving and committed relationships, while opponents decried it as upsetting the time-honored tradition of marriage.

Sen. Bryan W. Simonaire, R-Anne Arundel, said passage of the bill would become known as “the day traditional marriage died in Maryland.” And Sen. E. J. Pipkin, R-Upper Shore, said the state should not allow civil marriage until it experiments with “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.

But Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. put  a personal face on the debate, as he spoke of his partner, Mark, with whom he had a wedding ceremony at a Maryland church 10 years ago. Their marriage, however, is not recognized by the state, said Madaleno, D-Montgomery.

“He, in my heart, is my spouse,” Madaleno said. Enactment of the same-sex marriage bill would provide “full equality under the law,” the senator added.

Madaleno also assailed the use of the term “partner” to describe the significant other in same-sex relationships between people who would be married if only the law permitted them.

Partner “makes it sound like he is your business associate” rather than your spouse, Madaleno told his fellow senators.

But Sen. Nancy Jacobs, in opposing the bill, said Maryland has a “compelling interest” in preserving marriage as the province of heterosexual couples, who can produce children and provide a mother and father.

“Marriage has been an institution for a man and a woman throughout the ages,” said Jacobs, R-Cecil and Harford. Such a union best provides for “the core purpose of marriage: responsible procreation,” Jacobs said.

The bill 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.

On the House side, the Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing Friday on similar same-sex marriage legislation, House Bill 175.

Sen. Robert J. Garagiola, chief sponsor of the Senate bill, told his colleagues Thursday during the morning debate that he wants gay and lesbian couples to have the same rights he enjoys with his lawfully wedded wife of 14 years, including the right of survivorship.

“We take for granted the … rights that we enjoy,” said Garagiola, D-Montgomery. “We need to move forward and provide full marriage equality to every Maryland citizen who is in a loving, committed relationship.”

Sen. Karen S. Montgomery, another supporter of the bill, 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 struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in its 1967 decision Loving v. Virginia.

“I think we are repeating old, old arguments and we need to move on,” the Montgomery County Democrat told her colleagues.

Sen. Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, called his support for same-sex marriage “one of the easiest votes I’m going to make” as senator.

“We have thousands of Marylanders who are [being treated as] second-class citizens,” he said.

But Sen. Joanne C. Benson, D-Prince George’s, said 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.”

Gov. Martin O’Malley has said he would sign into law same-sex marriage legislation passed by the General Assembly.

In addition to Washington, D.C., same-sex marriages are legally performed in Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont.

Maryland currently recognizes same-sex marriages legally performed elsewhere.