constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in
Maryland died in a house committee Thursday after a
day of rancorous debate between Democrats and
Republicans on what has become the most emotionally
charged issue of the 2006 general assembly session.
Republican proponents of the amendment said they
do not plan to give up and are exploring options to
get the bill up for debate by the full house of delegates.
The amendment, which originally banned same-sex
marriages and civil unions, was rejected on a
unanimous vote in the judiciary committee after
Democrats narrowly amended it so it would define marriage as
a union of one man and one woman but also allow civil
unions with all the rights of marriage. "We will not
give up this fight," Republican delegate Christopher
Shank said after the judiciary committee vote.
He said Republicans will use every parliamentary
maneuver at their disposal to get the 141-member house
of delegates on record on the issue of same-sex
marriage but told reporters, "I'm not going to stand here
and announce what our strategy will be."
The committee vote came at the end of a day of
wrangling that began in the morning session of the
house of delegates when Republicans tried a rarely
used house rule to bring the bill up for debate by the house
before the committee could vote on it. House speaker Michael
Busch gaveled the session to a close before any action
could be taken. That brought swift condemnation from
Republicans, including Gov. Robert Ehrlich, who
criticized the speaker's handling of the issue.
Busch defended his actions, noting that the bill
got an expedited hearing and was scheduled for a vote
Thursday, a fact that he said was known to
Republicans. "We have been fair and forthright on this
issue," Busch said, adding that there are steps
Republicans can take to get the bill up for debate
despite the judiciary committee vote.
Same-sex marriage is a politically inflammatory
issue, made more so this year by the recent decision
of a Baltimore judge to declare invalid the Maryland
law stating that marriage is a union of one man and one woman.
Democrats, who worry that having the amendment
on the ballot would boost turnout by conservative
voters in November, would like to keep the issue off
the ballot in the general election. Busch repeated the
argument of party leaders that the legislature should
not try to amend the constitution until the state
court of appeals decides whether to overrule or affirm
the lower court ruling.
Circuit judge M. Brooke Murdock stayed the
effect of her ruling until a decision is made by the
court of appeals, and Democratic delegate Neil Quinter
said same-sex marriage is still illegal and no same-sex
couple in Maryland can walk into a courthouse and get
a marriage license.
Ehrlich issued a pointed reminder to Democrats
that Republicans don't intend to let the issue
disappear, even if it is not on the ballot. "This is
going to be an issue in the 2006 election in races all
across the state," the governor said. "It should be placed
on the ballot." House majority leader Kumar Barve, a
Democrat, chided the governor for being inconsistent
on what should be put before the voters. "The same
governor who didn't want slot machines on the ballot now
wants this on the ballot," he said.
And at a hastily called news conference late in
the day after the committee vote, Republican members
repeatedly said Democrats were trying to keep a
marriage amendment off the ballot for political reasons,
fearing it will benefit Republican candidates in November.
Marriage should be above politics, but "clearly to the
Democrats in the house of delegates, it is not above
politics," Shank said.
The bill, as introduced by Republican delegate
Don Dwyer, would have banned same-sex marriage and
civil unions. The key vote in committee came on a
motion by Democratic delegate Kathleen Dumais to leave the
ban on same-sex marriage but legalize civil unions.
Democrats had argued that Dwyer's amendment was so
broad in scope that it could affect many kinds of
legal relationships between two people of the same sex, such
as two sisters or two brothers or even a parent and
adult child living together. "This amendment guts the
intent of Mr. Dwyer's amendment," Republican delegate
Herb McMillan said.
After the committee approved the Dumais
amendment on an 11-10 vote, with three
Democrats siding with the committee's seven Republicans,
Dwyer and other committee members insisted that their
names be taken off the bill. At the end of the day,
the bill was rejected on a unanimous vote, with
supporters saying they could no longer support it because
the Dumais amendment completely reversed the purpose
of Dwyer's original bill. (AP)
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