EYE ON ANNAPOLIS: House Committees send same-sex marriage to floor

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In an unusual two-committee vote Tuesday evening, delegates grappled with several proposed amendments before voting 25 to 18 to send controversial same-sex marriage legislation to the full House, where it could be debated as early as Wednesday.

The 25 yes votes included the first in the House by a Republican, Delegate Robert Costa of Anne Arundel.

In their first meeting together since a marathon hearing on Friday, members of the House Judiciary and Health and Government Operations committees struck down a number of amendments that included motions to allow civil unions instead of same-sex marriages, and to change the date the bill would go into effect.

“This is a good bill,” said Delegate Keiffer J. Mitchell, D-Baltimore, a supporter and Judiciary Committee member. “It has actually done everything that it can to make sure religious protections are in place. It’s time for this bill to move forward to the floor for debate, for an up or down vote.”

The bill goes to the floor unchanged, but it will likely face many of the same amendments when the whole chamber takes it up.

“Many of the amendments you saw in committee will probably be offered on the floor tomorrow or the day after,” said bill supporter and House Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve, D-Montgomery, who attended the voting session.

Although bill supporters in the House acknowledged they remain “a couple” votes shy of the 71 needed to push the legislation through the chamber, some say the pressure of a floor debate and vote could sway undecided delegates.

“There is the potential that there are some people on the fence that, if it comes to the floor, they might be willing to change their mind, and so, I think it’s such an important issue, it’s worth the gamble,” said bill cosponsor Delegate Shawn Tarrant, D-Baltimore, Tuesday morning.

Gov. Martin O’Malley agreed.

“People always make their decisions against deadlines,” O’Malley said Monday night in an interview with reporters.

O’Malley is hoping that Costa will not be the only Republican to vote for the bill. The governor has been courting Republicans in order to make up the remaining votes needed for passage.

The bill did not get a full vote on the House floor last year, but it passed in the Senate with one Republican vote from Sen. Allan H. Kittleman of Howard.

While many Republicans have spoken out against the bill, some remain undecided, including Delegate Patrick N. Hogan of Frederick, who said Tuesday morning that he is still grappling with the issue.

Last year, O’Malley said he would sign the bill if it reached his desk. But the governor made same-sex marriage a major part of his ambitious legislative agenda during the current 90-day session, speaking out publically and testifying before Senate and House committees.

The governor hinted Monday night that the bill could move out of committee this week, but said it was at the discretion of House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel.

Judiciary Chair Joseph Vallario, D-Prince George’s, said Tuesday morning that the bill could go to a committee vote by the afternoon, but that he would have to meet with Health and Government Operations Chair Peter A. Hammen, D-Baltimore.

Around 2:20 p.m. delegates from both committees confirmed they would gather at 4:30 p.m. in the Judiciary Committee hearing room, where debate exceeded one and a half hours.

Busch announced last month that The Civil Marriage Protection Act would be jointly assigned to the Health and Government Operations Committee because of its experience handling civil rights issues.

The Judiciary Committee has traditionally handled same-sex marriage. But several members balked last year, prompting Vallario, who typically does not vote in committee and has opposed same-sex marriage, to cast the deciding vote that sent the bill to the House floor.

Vallario voted against the bill Tuesday.

The Senate version of the bill is awaiting a vote in the Judicial Proceedings Committee, where it is expected to pass and then move through the floor with relative ease.

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