The marriage equality bill will receive a hearing Tuesday afternoon in the Senate Judicial Proceedings committee, with speakers including Gov. Martin O'Malley, who is pushing for the legislation this session.
Last year the bill passed the Senate for the first time with bipartisan support, but it failed to receive a vote in the House of Delegates, where church opposition influenced some lawmakers. This year the governor has introduced a bill with stronger exemptions for religious leaders and institutions as part of his legislative package in the hope of gaining more support.
The Baltimore Sun reports that Governor O'Malley is scheduled to make a rare in-person appearance before the Senate panel to support the bill. The hearing begins in the Senate Judicial Proceedings committee at 1 p.m. in Annapolis. Listen to the proceedings live here.
Even if the bill passes both houses of the Democratic-controlled legislature during the 90-day session, there is a strong possibility the measure could be challenged in a referendum this November. A survey commissioned in October by the Human Rights Campaign and conducted by the Garin Hart Yang polling firm indicated that 51% of respondents would support same-sex marriage in Maryland if the issue went to referendum.
Signs of opposition were apparent Monday in Annapolis, where The Washington Post reports that several hundred protesters, including ministers and lawmakers, attended a rally against the bill. A number of attendees targeted first lady Katie O'Malley, who said that "cowards" prevented the bill from passing last year in a speech to the Creating Change conference of LGBT activists in Baltimore on Thursday.
The first lady has apologized for the comment and the governor said the couple planned to engage offended lawmakers in the coming days, but protesters took advantage of the remark to energize the crowd.
"I'm too big to be a coward," said Del. Jay Walker, a former professional football player representing Prince George's County, to the delight of the audience, the Post reported.