By TOM MCPARLAND
ANNAPOLIS (February 16, 2012)—Shortly after a debate on same-sex marriage legislation was again postponed Thursday morning, Gov. Martin O'Malley met privately with House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel.
Afterward, O'Malley would not comment on the substance of the meeting.
"We're all still working. A lot of dialogue and a lot of conversation and a lot of really good people on both sides of this issue within the Democratic caucus are trying to find a way forward," O'Malley told Capital News Service. "And the way forward is for greater protection and respect for the equal rights of all."
After the House accepted a motion during the morning session to delay the debate, Busch called committee chairs to his podium and then announced that the full House of Delegates would reconvene at 5:30 p.m. A vote on the bill could come as early as tomorrow.
Many Democratic delegates insisted the delay was purely procedural, giving committees time to meet this afternoon and members a chance to shore up their amendments.
But House Minority Leader Anthony J. O'Donnell, an opponent of the bill, said the move could be political.
"This is a bi-partisan opposition with 30 or 40 members of both parties. About 35 give or take in both parties. Maybe 40 in the Republicans, 30, 32 in the Democrat party opposed to the bill," said O'Donnell, also indicating that Busch wanted to meet with the House Democratic Caucus in the afternoon.
Bill supporters say they are hovering around the 71 vote mark, the majority needed to pass the Civil Marriage Protection Act in the House and push it to the Senate, where it is expected to pass.
Delegates shot down a number of amendments Tuesday when two House committees voted to send the bill to the floor, including provisions that would allow civil unions in place of same-sex marriage, prevent same-sex teens from marrying, and change the effective date of the bill. But delegates expect those issues to resurface Thursday evening.
The Judiciary and Health and Government Operations committees on Tuesday passed the measure with a 25-18 vote to send it to the floor. Among the yes votes in committee was Delegate Robert Costa of Anne Arundel, the first House Republican to vote in favor the bill. O'Malley and bill supporters have been courting undecided Republicans as a key group to make up the "couple" votes still needed to ensure passage.
That effort took a hit Wednesday when previously undecided Republican Patrick N. Hogan of Frederick announced he would be voting against the bill.
Supporters did pick up a yes vote from Republican Wade Kach of Baltimore County Thursday morning. Kach, a member of the Health and Government Operations Committee, voted against the bill Tuesday.
"Tomorrow I will cast my green vote with confidence that this bill protects religious freedom and that the issue will ultimately be decided by the voters of our state," he said in a statement.
Delegate Bonnie L. Cullison, D-Montgomery, said Thursday morning supporters remain "cautiously optimistic" that the bill will pass.
CNS TV's Katelin Wangberg contributed to this report.