By MAGGIE CLARK
ANNAPOLIS (March 2, 2011) Same-sex marriage in Maryland may be back on track now that two delegates who skipped votes earlier this week said Wednesday that they will vote on the bill when it comes up in the House Judiciary Committee.
Delegates Tiffany Alston, D-Prince George's, and Jill Carter, D-Baltimore, both co-sponsors of the bill, surprised everyone Tuesday when they were absent from an unscheduled voting session on the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act.
Carter said Wednesday she will vote in favor of the bill. Alston said in a statement she would vote, "based on what I believe to be right."
Delegates are counting votes on the bill, which changes the definition of marriage from "between a man and a woman" to "between two individuals," and permits churches to refuse to perform same-sex unions if the practice violates their beliefs.
The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday again postponed a vote on the same-sex marriage bill. Committee members expect the bill to come up in Thursday's regular scheduled committee voting session.
The House Judiciary Committee is considering the same bill passed last week in the Senate.
Carter said her vote was never in question, but that she took this opportunity to voice her concerns about funding levels in Baltimore schools and to raise the profile of two of her bills dealing with parental custody rights.
Carter said she wasn't trying to hold anything up or "hijack" the vote, but just trying to raise her concerns about important issues.
"I was always going to support the bill, but I wanted to use the opportunity, while we had it before us, to raise the profile of other civil rights and constitutional issues. I feel that my responsibility is to represent an entire constituency and as important, or at least as important as marriage equality is, certainly children's civil rights and parental equality and our constitutional mandate to fund schools are at least equally important," Carter said.
Alston said she felt rushed and wanted to take more time hearing from her constituents before she casts her vote.
"I have been getting a lot of calls from constituents and when I was interviewed on the campaign trail, I told people my position, but I also told them that I was going to hear from them," said Alston.
Alston said she felt she did not have enough time to hear from her constituents, who sent her so many emails her system crashed.
"After we have the eight-hour public hearing on Friday and we have a weekend break and I'm getting flooded with emails and phone calls, there's not time to listen to people and hear their concerns. There needs to be time to get through that. We need to hear the voice of the people," Alston said.
Delegate Curt Anderson, D- Baltimore, and a member of the Judiciary Committee, said he thinks if there is not a vote on the bill Thursday, it might not make it out of committee.
"If the vote doesn't occur (Thursday), you can write its obituary. The momentum is being lost and there are other things that we're supposed to do here in Annapolis ... leadership has given it its best effort. They certainly are not doing anything to slow it down," Anderson said.
"If tomorrow there's no vote, it's certainly going to subject everybody in the House of Delegates to continued lobbying over the weekend. A lot of us go to church and have pastors who are for or against the bill. I got 700 emails alone on this issue. Some folks have gotten a hold of my cell phone number. There's pressure on each and every one of us," Anderson said.
Opponents of the bill are upset over the delayed vote.
"We were prepared to vote yesterday and it's unfortunate that the ruling party gets to set the rules," said Delegate Michael McDermott, R-Worcester.
"I would imagine that if there were two of us missing from the table, the vote would have still occurred. We're hoping that folks will be able to vote their conscience. This should be something that's nonpartisan, but it's being attacked on purely partisan lines," said McDermott.