By MAGGIE CLARK
ANNAPOLIS (March 3, 3011) The future remains uncertain for same-sex marriage in Maryland after the House Judiciary Committee again failed to vote on the bill Thursday.
Committee Chairman Joseph Vallario did not call a vote on the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act, 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.
Despite three days of delays and confusion surrounding the bill, Gov. Martin O'Malley lobbied House members and asked them to "send it to my desk."
"I will sign it because I believe this bill protects rights equally while also protecting religious freedom and I think the bill needs to be passed," said O'Malley.
The bill smoothly passed the Senate last week, but was thrown off course when two House Judiciary Committee members and co-sponsors of the bill, Tiffany Alston, D-Prince George's, and Jill Carter, D-Baltimore, did not show up for a voting session Tuesday.
They are the 11th and 12th votes needed for the bill to get out of the 22-member committee.
Alston said she was still considering her vote and would likely propose an amendment to the bill to change all marriages to civil unions.
"I think if we wanted to issue a license to everybody and called it something like civil union license, then everybody in the state, whether they're a heterosexual or a homosexual could get the same exact license. Then, whether you're a heterosexual or a homosexual, you could go to church and get married. That's what I believe is a good balance. I don't know that people on either side would like that, but for me, as a logical, thinking person, I think that makes sense. I have an amendment in mind (on this topic) and it's being researched right now," Alston said.
Carter was absent all day Thursday. Her aide said she was sick.
In an interview Wednesday, Carter said she would support the bill, but was taking the 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.
House leaders, and even Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, expressed guarded optimism about the bill's future.
"I believe once it comes out of committee, and we already believe that there are the votes in the committee, that it will undergo rigorous debate on the House floor, and pass, but it's going to be close. People are going to vote their conscience, and I suspect there won't be a whole lot of arm-twisting by the leadership," Brown said.
House Speaker Michael Busch agreed.
"I think the vote is close both in the committee and in the House. I think the votes would be there to pass the bill," Busch said.
There was speculation among delegates that the committee would vote on the bill Friday. Opponents are convinced that as soon as the leadership has the votes to pass the bill, they will hold a vote.
"I believe that when they have the votes, we will vote this issue. The longer there's a delay, the longer we have to work this issue with the public. People are receiving a lot of phone calls and a lot of emails on the issue," said Delegate Don Dwyer, R-Anne Arundel, and an opponent of same-sex marriage.