UPDATE: Amendments Debated, Vote Nears in Maryland

By Julie Bolcer

Originally published on Advocate.com February 23 2012 11:50 AM ET

The Maryland Senate began debate on the marriage equality bill Thursday morning, defeating a series of amendments from opponents intent on derailing the proposal that narrowly passed the House of Delegates last week. A final vote could come within the next few hours.

The Baltimore Sun reports that supporters of the bill soundly beat back six amendments that could have killed the measure. Proposals included attempts to prohibit minors from same-sex marriages and to broaden religious exemptions in the bill.

Senators are expected to return at 4 p.m., and a vote on the bill is possible, although lawmakers will also have the opportunity to propose more amendments. Debate on the marriage equality bill can be heard live here when the Maryland Senate returns to session.

According to the Sun, during the morning debate, Sen. Bryan Simonaire, an Anne Arundel Republican opposed to the bill, read and showed a picture from the children's book King & King, which he argued has been used in Massachusetts to teach children about same-sex relationships. He said that he feared such a book, which features two princes kissing “on the lips,” could be used in Maryland schools, a prospect that other senators deemed highly improbable.

Earlier this week, Senate president Thomas V. Mike Miller postponed debate until Thursday upon request of Republican leaders. A Senate panel advanced the measure in a 7-4 party line vote on Tuesday.

The bill passed the House last Friday in a 72-67 vote, including amendments that would delay its effective date from October 2012 to January 2013 and keep the law from taking effect until any litigation related to a potential referendum is processed. According to the Associated Press, opponents of the bill asked Atty. Gen. Doug Gansler for feedback on the constitutionality of the amendments, and his office sent letters that confirmed their soundness. Any changes in the Senate version would force the bill back to the House, where approval for a second time would not be guaranteed.

 Reuters reports that opponents in the Senate had been considering amendments that would change the effective date of the law back to October 2012 and broaden its religious liberty protections. Still, Senate leaders expect to pass the bill, which passed for the first time last year in a 25-21 bipartisan vote.

Gov. Martin O’Malley has vowed to sign the bill, but opponents plan to push for a referendum. According to Reuters, some 56,000 signatures would be needed to put the measure on the ballot this November, one third of which would have to be submitted by May 31 and the remainder by June 30.