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What a week for marriage equality.
Following signing of the law in Washington Monday, then a decisive vote for same-sex marriage in the New Jersey legislature Thursday, lawmakers in the Maryland House voted today in favor of marriage equality in their state for the first time.
Nearly a year ago, the House voted to shelve a marriage bill
by sending the legislation back to committee -- this after it became clear that
supporters simply did not have enough votes. But the Senate passed the bill and
is expected to do so again this year. Gov. Martin O'Malley has pushed for the
law and pledged to sign it. "Today, the House of Delegates voted for human dignity," he said in a statement after the vote.
The Maryland House of Delegates needed 71 votes to pass the bill. Whether the chamber had the requisite votes was a matter of much speculation just hours before the vote. Pro-marriage equality lawmakers Thursday had to delay consideration of the legislation until today, when it passed 72 to 67 as cheers erupted from the gallery and on the floor.
Del. Anne Kaiser, a lesbian, said during debate of the bill that her parents had hoped she "finds someone to love." Then, "I have, and I wish to be married." Del. Maggie McIntosh, who come out as a lesbian while serving in the House, said "We seem to be on a roll."
First, Democratic lawmakers succeeded in defeating a string of amendments that tried to transform the bill into a voter referendum or a civil unions law, plus one attempt to delay the vote until Monday so Republicans had enough time to ask the attorney general a question. Ultimately, the only amendment to pass was one from Democrats that claimed to give the courts the power to hold up implementation of the law if legal challenges are still outstanding.
On Thursday 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
Anti-marriage equality groups, including the National Organization for Marriage, told supporters they were "working the halls of the Capitol" as lawmakers considered the bill. And opponents were vocal on the floor of the House during debate.
"I'm not voting against this bill in judgment of these people," Del. Patrick McDonough told his colleagues. "I am voting against this bill because of what my God told me."
Minority Leader Anthony O'Donnell suggested that passage was aided by inappropriate political deals. "We all are not blind, and we all are not deaf," O'Donnell said at the start of debate.
Meanwhile, 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, called a small number of undecided delegates and asked them to support the bill, according toThe Baltimore Sun. The Sun claimed that even former vice president Dick Cheney offered to call Del. Wade Kach, who had been on the fence.
On Thursday morning, 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, turned the spotlight to Gov. Chris Christie, who fulfilled his pledge to veto the measure Friday, even as Maryland lawmakers debated. Supporters say they have two years to find enough votes needed to override the veto.
And on Monday, Gov. Christine Gregoire in Washington signed a marriage equality bill into law there. It is scheduled to go into effect on June 7, unless anti-marriage equality groups gather enough signatures to put the issue on the ballot in November.
Washington would become the seventh state in the nation, plus the District of Columbia, to legalize same-sex marriage, with Maryland possibly becoming the eighth.