Following a decisive Thursday vote for marriage equality in New Jersey, lawmakers in Maryland are grappling for last-minute support from undecided delegates to pass their own marriage bill.
The Maryland House of Delegates needs 71 votes to pass a bill supported by Gov. Martin O’Malley that would legalize civil marriage for gay couples in the state. Whether the chamber has the requisite votes has been a matter of high speculation, however. Pro-marriage equality lawmakers delayed consideration of the legislation Thursday.
The Washington Post reports that debate on the bill is expected to resume Friday afternoon, with the delegates back in session at 12:30 p.m. Eastern time (read the report here). A source in Annapolis said Friday that the "votes were close" and could not confirm whether enough support currently exists.
Yesterday, bill supporters agreed to an amendment that would push the effective date of the legislation to January of next year. Opposition groups have already begun collecting signatures for a potential November referendum: Only 53,650 signatures are needed to put the issue on the ballot.
Nearly a year ago, the House voted to shelve a marriage bill by recommitting the legislation back to the Judiciary Committee — this after it became clear that marriage equality supporters simply did had not have enough votes.
Anti-marriage equality groups including the National Organization for Marriage are pushing hard for a similar outcome today. “As I write, Delegates are debating Governor O'Malley's proposal to radically redefine marriage in the state,” NOM president Brian Brown wrote on the group’s blog. “The vote is expected to happen later today, so we need you to call right now. Our team working the halls of the Capitol is telling us that the vote is neck-and-neck, and could go either way.”
National pro-marriage equality figures including New York mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Republican National Committee chair Ken Mehlman, who came out in 2010 and whose campaign contributions to anti-equality GOP candidates have recently come under scrutiny, have been calling a small number of undecided delegates and asking them to support the bill, according to The Baltimore Sun.
On Thursday morning, Del. Wade Kach from Baltimore County became the second Republican in the chamber to announce his support for the bill. The delegate said his thinking on the issue had “evolved” over recent months and that the enhanced religious exemptions in the bill championed by O’Malley were “instrumental” to his decision to change his vote.
"While no one event or conversation prompted me to come to this decision, I was significantly moved by the testimony of families — who are raising children in a loving environment and deserve every right to enjoy the same protections and responsibilities that our laws provide for others,” Wade said in a statement.
On Thursday, the New Jersey Assembly passed the Marriage Equality and Religious Exemption Act for the first time in a 42-33 vote. The historic passage, following Senate approval on Monday, turns the spotlight to Gov. Chris Christie, who has vowed to veto the measure once it reaches his desk.
Advocate.com will have updates on the Maryland bill debate this afternoon.