ANNAPOLIS – Legislation to permit same-sex marriage in Maryland cleared a legislative hurdle Wednesday, with the House of Delegates rejecting amendments designed to weaken the measure and Speaker Michael Busch calling for a final debate and vote on the bill later this week.
House consideration of the proposed Civil Marriage Protection Act followed Senate approval of the measure Feb. 24 on a 25-21 vote. If the House passes the Senate-approved measure, the same-sex marriage legislation would go to Gov. Martin O’Malley, who has said he would sign it into law.
If enacted, Maryland would become the sixth state, in addition to Washington, D.C., that permits same-sex marriage.
The law would go into effect Oct. 1.
The proposed 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 would also 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.
The House on Wednesday rejected several amendments from bill opponents. One would have changed the name of the legislation to the Same-Sex Marriage Act. Another would have permitted religious-affiliated adoption agencies to deny adoptions to gay and lesbian couples was also defeated. A third amendment would have allowed teachers to refuse to instruct students about same-sex marriage. And a fourth would have sent the bill to Maryland voters without being voted on first by the General Assembly.
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.