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Same-sex marriage bill vote delayed again

ANNAPOLIS — The House Judiciary Committee will try again Friday to vote on the historic same-sex marriage measure, according to a senior member of the panel.

“God willing and the creek don’t rise, we’re voting tomorrow,” Del. Curtis S. “Curt” Anderson, D-Baltimore City and a supporter of the bill, said late Thursday afternoon. “Let’s just go forward.”

Vote counters on the committee say the bill will clear the panel if one of its two holdouts — Dels. Jill P. Carter, D-Baltimore, or Tiffany T. Alston, D-Prince George’s — votes for it.

The two delegates, who are sponsors of the bill, on Tuesday declined to cast votes, saying they first wanted House leadership to address their concerns about proposed cuts to school budgets in Baltimore and Prince George’s County. (O’Malley’s proposed budget for next year would cut $15.3 million from Baltimore schools and $20.9 million from Prince George’s schools.)

Carter has since said she would vote for the bill after receiving “assurances” from House leaders. She was not at the statehouse Thursday due to illness, said committee colleagues.

Alston has not stated if she will vote.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel, said no deals were struck to secure any votes on the committee.

Del. Luiz R.S. Simmons, a committee member who supports same-sex marriage, said Thursday that Carter’s presumptive yes vote is all that is needed to get to the magic number of 12 that secures committee approval of the bill.

“We can’t vote without her,” said Simmons, a Montgomery County Democrat.

Attention has focused on the House committee since last Thursday, when the Senate passed the proposed Civil Marriage Protection Act on a vote of 25-21.

If the House follows suit, Gov. Martin O’Malley said he would sign the measure into law. Maryland would become the sixth state, along with Washington, D.C., that permits same-sex marriage.

The law would go into effect Oct. 1.

Opponents of the measure say they plan to mount a petition drive to bring the issue to Maryland voters via referendum in November 2012.

Del. Don H. Dwyer Jr., a committee member who opposes same-sex marriage, said he would participate in the petition drive. The Anne Arundel County Republican said the effort would cost several million dollars and donations would come from across the country.

The same-sex marriage legislation, Senate Bill 116, 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 also 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 further exempts religious groups from having to provide educational programs, counseling services, retreats or insurance coverage for same-sex couples.

Same-sex marriages are legally performed in Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Washington, D.C.

Currently, Maryland recognizes as valid within the state same-sex marriages lawfully performed in other jurisdictions.