By TOM MCPARLAND
ANNAPOLIS (February 21, 2012)—A Senate panel voted 7-4 Tuesday to advance same-sex marriage legislation to the entire chamber, where members hope to move on it quickly, but the possibility of a filibuster remains.
The vote came just days after the Civil Marriage Protection Act won a narrow 72-67 approval in the full House of Delegates.
In a noon voting session, the Judicial Proceedings Committee advanced HB 438 after voting down two amendments, which would have allowed for civil unions in place of same-sex marriage and negated a House amendment postponing the bill's effective date until January 2013.
"A little bit of Wite-Out is the guillotine here. So don't touch the bill if you are for it," said bill supporter Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery, before an amendment vote. Supporters want to avoid changes that would send the bill back to the House.
With the Senate likely busy taking up Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposed budget in the coming weeks, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said the full chamber will move quickly on the bill, with a vote coming as early as Friday.
"We'll try to deal with the issue as quickly as we can," Miller, a bill opponent, told reporters Tuesday morning.
The Senate passed similar legislation last year by a 25-21 vote, and with no members publicly announcing a change in stance, many expect a similar result this year.
Should same-sex marriage pass in the Senate, it would go to the desk of bill champion O'Malley for his guaranteed signature. Voters will then likely have the final say in referendum if bill opponents are able to gather enough signatures to put the measure on the November ballot.
Members acknowledged Tuesday that bill opponents could push for a filibuster, a delay tool not available in the House. But they expressed a desire to move on to other issues.
"Filibuster is a foreseeable event here, but I think the body as a whole wants closure," Raskin said.
Should it be invoked by bill opponents, a filibuster could be staved off by members with a vote of cloture, which requires 29 votes. Both sides said Tuesday the votes are likely there to prevent a filibuster.
"President (Miller) is not a supporter of the legislation. But he doesn't like filibusters, so there's one example of a vote for cloture from an opponent of the bill, and I think there will be enough of them," said bill proponent and Judicial Proceedings Chair Sen. Brian E. Frosh, D-Montgomery.
Sen. Joseph M. Getty, R-Baltimore County, said that while no formal strategy is in place, opponents from both parties in the Senate have discussed a filibuster attempt.
"There are always discussions. I wouldn't say there's an organized strategy at this point, but there are always discussions," said Getty, a bill opponent.
Opponents said floor debate will focus on religious protections and education issues surrounding same-sex marriage. But, because any amendment added in the Senate would force the bill back to the House for ratification, members on both sides expect no changes.
"Any major piece of legislation in Annapolis, you see that. The legislative leadership tries to stifle debate and tries to eliminate a rational look at amendments because they don't want to send it back to the opposite chamber," Getty said.
Six states—Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire and New York—and the District of Columbia, currently issue same-sex marriage licenses. A Washington state law passed earlier this month takes effect in June.
California's Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage was recently held unconstitutional by a federal court, but an appeal is expected.
O'Malley will continue his public defense of the bill on XM Radio Wednesday.