By MAGGIE CLARK
ANNAPOLIS (March 9, 2011) Same-sex marriage proponents Wednesday successfully batted down amendments to the Civil Marriage Protection Act, leading the way to a final up-or-down vote later this week.
The House of Delegates debated and rejected four amendments, including one to guarantee that a referendum on the bill would be on the ballot in 2012.
The Civil Marriage Protection Act, the same bill passed earlier this session in the Senate, would redefine marriage from "between a man and a woman" to "between two individuals" and protect churches from performing same-sex unions if the practice violates their beliefs. Gov. Martin O'Malley has said he supports the bill and would sign it.
Delegate Aisha Braveboy, D-Prince George's, proposed an amendment to guarantee the bill would go to a voter referendum in 2012 without the normally required petition drive. A referendum has been somewhat of a foregone conclusion among legislators, who expect opponents will get the 55,736 signatures necessary.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, voters have rejected same-sex marriage in 30 state referendums. In Washington state, voters approved domestic partnership rights.
The amendment failed 72-63, but represented the steepest challenge yet for the bill. If it had passed, the bill would have been forced back into a Senate committee and would be required to pass the Senate another time. With just over 30 days left in the 2011 legislative session, there would likely not be enough time to have a final vote on the issue this year.
The process has been a sticking point for many delegates who feel that they are being pressured to vote for a bill with no amendments. Delegate Tiffany Alston, D-Prince George's, raised such concerns in the Judiciary Committee last week and nearly derailed the bill's passage out of committee by proposing an amendment to change all marriages to civil unions. Alston said that the body is "derelicting it's duty" to have a deliberative debate on the issue.
"Our democracy says we're supposed to have a deliberative debate, and if you're not having a deliberate debate, you're bastardizing the democracy. We should be able to amend this bill if that's what this body wants. We should be able to send it back to the Senate if that's what the body wants. We should be able to honestly and earnestly debate this bill and we should give our people the ability to vote on this bill, because both sides have said this issue should go to referendum," Alston said.
Opponents offered three additional amendments during Wednesday's debate. One would carve out an exemption for faith-based adoption agencies to reject same-sex couples if the practice violates their religious beliefs. Another would have changed the name of the bill to "the same-sex marriage bill," and a third would have added protections for teachers and parents who object to school curriculum related to same-sex marriage. The bill does not address either adoption or curriculum development. All three amendments were rejected. Advocates for the bill are excited to be moving ahead and hopeful that Wednesday is indicative of success to come.
"It was a very strong vote," said Delegate Heather Mizeur, D-Montgomery, who is openly gay and a bill supporter. Mizeur called Wednesday's amendments "red herrings" that deal with issues already addressed in the state's legal codes.
"In resisting all of the amendments, we were able to show a really strong vote of support ... and at the end of the day, when that vote is called after what I expect to be a very lengthy debate, we expect to see at least 71 votes up on that board and we'll be the sixth state in the nation that has marriage equality," Mizeur said.
Capital News Service's David Saleh Rauf contributed to this report.
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