The marriage equality bill moves to its next step Friday afternoon when the house of delegates judiciary committee hears testimony on the bill. Discussion is expected to be challenging compared to the senate, where two days of civil debate among lawmakers preceded the bill's final approval in a historic 25-21 vote Thursday evening.
The house judiciary committee is scheduled to hear testimony on the Civil Marriage Protection Act at 1 p.m. on Friday in Annapolis. Committee members, most of whom cosponsor the legislation, are expected to forward the bill to the entire 141-member body for consideration.
However, The Baltimore Sun reports that passage in the house of delegates is "far from assured."
According to the Sun, "The bill in that chamber has 58 sponsors; 71 votes are needed for passage. And if it is passed, opponents would almost certainly petition for a referendum, giving Maryland voters the final say."
Gov. Martin O'Malley has promised to sign the bill if it passes both chambers.
The legislation cleared a crucial hurdle on its third and final reading Thursday when 25 senators approved the bill without opponents mounting the anticipated filibuster. Advocates including Equality Maryland and senate leaders hailed the historic vote while acknowledging the work ahead in the house of delegates.
"This is a historic and proud moment in Maryland's history," said senate majority leader Rob Garajiola. "The advocates for this legislation have worked tirelessly to this point and will continue to push through the final stages of this movement. I am honored to be a part of this effort and am confident that the Free State will realize full marriage equality in 2011."
The vote capped two days of fairly restrained debate in the senate. In an earlier session Thursday morning, senators for and against the marriage equality bill presented their arguments. Speakers in support included Rich Madaleno, the first openly gay Maryland state senator, who spoke poignantly of what the proposal means for the two children he has with his partner, Mark.
Madaleno told a story about parenthood in which his young daughter asked, "Daddy, will you hold my wishes for me?"
Sen. Bryan Simonaire, an opponent of the bill who tried but failed to advance an amendment Wednesday to exempt public school teachers from teaching marriage equality, continued with his dire warnings of "unintended consequences" if the measure is passed.
Simonaire decried that February 24, 2011, would be remembered as "the day traditional marriage died in Maryland."
Also speaking in the morning session was Allan Kittleman, the lone Republican senator to break with his conference and support the bill. Kittleman invoked novelist Victor Hugo in calling the marriage equality bill "an idea whose time has come."
Sen. Robert Zirkin took care to correct an assertion from Sen. E.J. Pipkin that every state with marriage equality had previously approved the "in-between" step of civil unions, which for example did not occur in Iowa. Pipkin called the bill "extreme" because it would deny Marylanders the chance to "test-drive" civil unions, although he failed to mention that civil unions have proven inadequate for same-sex couples in states such as New Jersey.
Zirkin said that supporting marriage equality would be his "easiest vote in 13 years."
Senators concluded the morning with a discussion of the fiscal impact of approving marriage equality.
The marriage equality bill won initial senate approval Wednesday in a 25-22 vote after two hours of debate during which Sen. Jamie Raskin led arguments for marriage equality. Debate concluded around the same time the Obama administration announced it would no longer defend the constitutionality of a section of the Defense of Marriage Act.
On Wednesday senators approved amendments to the bill including exceptions for religious organizations not to promote same-sex marriage in services such as counseling and retreats, and to decline to provide insurance to same-sex couples in programs offered by religious groups such as the Knights of Columbus. Senators also approved an amendment to strike the words Religious Freedom and from the title of the bill, previously known as the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act. The bill is now called the Civil Marriage Protection Act.