Md. Marriage Vote Pushed to 2012
BY Julie Bolcer
March 11 2011 6:05 PM ET
In the latest surprising twist along the long and winding path of the Maryland marriage equality bill, the house of delegates voted Friday afternoon to recommit the bill to committee, effectively ensuring there would be no further action on the bill until next year.
Following three hours of impassioned debate, house chairman Joseph Vallario proposed the motion to recommit, which delegates approved in a voice vote. The procedural maneuver sends the bill back to the judiciary committee, where it can be taken up again in 2012. The committee advanced the bill by a 12-10 vote last week.
While clearly stunned, advocates struck an upbeat tone in their reaction to the move, which buys the measure more time and avoids an unequivocal failure with marriage legislation also pending in New York and Rhode Island this year. Having passed the senate last month, the bill encountered greater than expected hurdles in the house, where it remained one to two votes short of the 71 needed to pass as late as the morning of the anticipated final vote.
"Though we are disappointed that we must continue to fight for marriage equality, today's move was a strategic step that will allow us to fight and win in the future," said Morgan Meneses-Sheets and Charles Butler, the executive director and board president, respectively, of Equality Maryland, the statewide advocacy group, in a statement.
A coalition of groups including Equality Maryland, the Human Rights Campaign, Freedom to Marry, and Gill Action echoed that sentiment in a subsequent statement.
“Already this year we have made tremendous progress toward winning the freedom to marry for same-sex couples in Maryland. Successful votes in the full Senate and House committee show there is a strong and growing movement toward the freedom to marry. Over the past several days it has become clear that additional time to continue the marriage conversation in the state will better position the Civil Marriage Protection Act for success. By taking a bit more time, the majority of Marylanders who support the freedom to marry in the state will have the opportunity to have their voices heard by their legislators," said the statement.
In an interview afterward, Meneses-Sheets said her group did not expect to see a vote on the bill in the 2011 session.
“We do not anticipate seeing this vote again this year,” she said. “There is hard work for the next nine months until we vote again.”
Asked whether she agreed with the decision by house leadership to delay a vote, Meneses-Sheets replied, “All of the folks who’ve been involved in the day-to-day work had an opportunity share their opinion. At the end of the day, decisions are made.”
Sen. Jamie Raskin, the floor leader for the bill in the senate, agreed that it was unlikely the bill would see a vote this year.
“I think that there was a heroic effort made by Equality Maryland and advocates in the house, so it’s hard to imagine that any stones were left unturned,” he said. “If there were two to three delegates who would wake up and realize they made a huge mistake, then we could revive it this session. But in all likelihood, that’s all she wrote for 2011. I just can’t imagine the body has any energy for it.”
Raskin attributed the disappointing outcome in large part to a “fierce grassroots campaign” by religious groups opposed to marriage equality. He said opponents seemed spurred to action by the success in the senate, which approved the bill by a 25-21 vote two weeks ago without protracted debate.
"A number of delegates told me they were planning to move in a positive direction but there were just tons of robocalls coming into their district,” he said. “I think the opponents were stunned by our success in the senate. They called in the heavy artillery from around the country.”
Following the vote to recommit on Friday, the antigay National Organization for Marriage issued a statement “congratulating” the Maryland legislature for “defending” marriage. This week the group pledged $1 million to defend Democrats in the state who voted against the marriage equality bill and to defeat any Republicans who supported the measure.
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