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Same-sex marriage and the ‘Cone of Silence’

The story of how the Maryland House of Delegates passed same-sex marriage legislation during the General Assembly’s regular session has already been told. Still, I found it interesting to hear Del. Kathleen M. Dumais’ firsthand account, which she gave Friday during a family law session at the Maryland State Bar Association’s Annual Meeting in Ocean City. (When she’s not in Annapolis, Dumais is a family law lawyer who is senior counsel to Ethridge, Quinn, Kemp, McAuliffe, Rowan & Hartinger in Rockville.)

Dumais was the floor leader for the bill, meaning it was her job to determine if there were the 71 votes needed to pass the legislation. Exactly how many votes the bill had was “kept very close to the vest,” she said. The vote count, she continued, was kept “under a Cone of Silence.”

On the eve of the vote, however, supporters had only 70 “yeas.” Dumais left her office prepared to propose “Plan B” — civil unions. But when she returned early the next morning, she was summoned to House Speaker Michael E. Busch’s office.

“We have a heroine,” she was told.

Turns out the night before, “a Prince George’s County delegate” as Dumais put it — she did not identify Del. Tiffany T. Alston by name — had requested and received a meeting with Gov. Martin O’Malley. Alston said she would change her vote and support same-sex marriage if an amendment she offered was adopted. The amendment kept the law from going into effect until any litigation related to a potential voters’ referendum on the measure was processed.

Dumais offered the amendment during the floor debate, which was passed.

“That was the key and clue we had the votes for the bill,” she said. “The whole place erupted.”

The voting board soon showed a 71-67 vote in favor of passing same-sex marriage legislation.

“I can’t tell you how exciting it was to be on the floor when ’71’ went on the board,” she said.

Afterward, the vote count was revised to 72-61 because a voting board malfunction left off a “yea” from Del. John L. Bohanan Jr., D-St. Mary’s. Dumais later learned she had her 71 votes Friday morning; Bohanan had texted Busch on Thursday night he planned to support the bill.

“Apparently, the speaker doesn’t like to read texts,” she said to laughter.

Dumais told the lawyers it was the “most exciting day I’ve ever been in the legislature,” drawing a round of applause from the audience.