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Future of same-sex marriage bill is murky

House Speaker Michael E. Busch

ANNAPOLIS — Two delegates who had delayed a vote on same-sex marriage legislation appeared ready to vote on the measure Wednesday, but the future of the measure remained murky.

The bill had been expected to sail through the Judiciary Committee on Tuesday — 12 of the 22 members had signed on as cosponsors of same-sex legislation — but two holdouts, Dels. Jill P. Carter, D-Baltimore City, and Tiffany T. Alston, D-Prince George’s, delayed a vote scheduled for that morning.

“They’re still going through discussions, and we’ll see late this week or early next week where the majority of the members are, and that’ll determine the outcome of the vote in committee,” House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel, said after meeting with Judiciary Chairman Joseph F. Vallario Jr., D-Calvert and Prince George’s.

“I’m not putting any timetable or timeframe on it,” Busch said, adding a “lack of communication that there were some concerns” led to the delay.

“I expect the next time this is on the voting list, the members of the committee will be there,” he said.

The House has moved quickly on the legislation. The Senate passed SB 116 on Thursday, and it was given a hearing in Judiciary the next day. A vote Tuesday would have positioned it for a full House vote late this week.

But, with the delay, some supporters expressed concern about the bill’s prospects.

“If the vote doesn’t occur [Thursday], you can start writing an obituary,” said Del. Curtis S. Anderson, chairman of the Baltimore delegation.

Anderson said the legislation is losing momentum, and after a weekend of lobbying efforts directed at church-going lawmakers, it could fizzle altogether. He said he received 700 e-mails Tuesday regarding same-sex marriage, most of them opposed.

“If the bill is not voted on [Thursday], then everyone has to rethink their priorities,” Anderson said. “How much time and [political] capital do we spend on this?”

Both Alston and Carter said Wednesday they are prepared to vote.

In a statement e-mailed to reporters at 1:51 a.m. Wednesday, Alston wrote she believes “all people should be treated equally regardless of their sexual orientation.” She did not say how she would vote, only that she would do so “based on what I believe to be right.”

Alston declined to take questions from reporters before a committee meeting Wednesday.

Carter denied she was behind the delay, despite she and Alston representing the final votes needed by the committee to pass the bill.

“There is no way in the world I have the power to stop something this big,” she said. “I was ready [Tuesday]. I did not hold up the bill. The votes were not here, in the committee or on the floor. That’s what I believe.”

As for the missed morning voting session, Carter said “I was a little late, but I wasn’t alone.”

Carter reiterated her stance that she wanted to show legislative leaders that the civil rights of school children are just as important as those of gay couples. The governor’s budget proposal includes a $15.3 million reduction in state aid for Baltimore schools, and a $20.9 million reduction for Prince George’s.

“Clearly there is an issue with the votes beyond just me,” she said. “I’m sorry if I gave the impression that it was all about me.”

Busch said the budget is “separate and apart from the policy issues.”

“How one legislator votes is not going to change how we advocate for funding for schools,” he said.

On Wednesday, Del. Heather Mizeur, D-Montgomery, one of the state’s seven openly gay lawmakers, described the episode as a “hiccup,” adding that she believes the bill will pass the committee and have enough votes for final passage on the House floor.

“I believe most members of the body believe issues of civil rights aren’t issues to be horse traded with,” Mizeur said.

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