By TOM MCPARLAND
ANNAPOLIS (February 23, 2012)—The Maryland Senate appears on the verge of approving same-sex marriage after considering a slew of amendments Thursday morning and pushing the legislation to a vote later in the day.
After overwhelmingly striking down seven amendments to the Civil Marriage Protection Act, the chamber adjourned until 4 p.m., when it is expected to consider additional amendments and cast a final vote to send the legislation to Gov. Martin O'Malley's desk for his promised signature.
"I think people recognize that there's a good possibility the bill's going to pass, perhaps with an increased majority in the Senate than it did last year," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., adding that he expects the afternoon session to last about an hour.
The bill was projected to move quickly through the Senate after narrowly passing in the House of Delegates Friday.
"It should be wrapped up by the end of this week, legislatively," said O'Malley, in a Wednesday interview on SiriusXM Radio.
Debate Thursday morning focused mainly on amending the language of the bill to further protect public schools and religious institutions, motions that floor leader Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery, referred to as "graffiti on the bill."
Supporters expect the bill to pass the Senate unchanged because any amendment to HB 438 would send it back to the House, potentially killing it, as both chambers begin debate on O'Malley's proposed budget in the coming weeks.
But bill opponents in the Senate vowed Thursday morning to keep pushing debate and amendments, despite firm resistance from bill supporters.
"It's the Senate's obligation to put together the best piece of legislation that protects religious freedom, deals with the education system," Senate Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin, R-Cecil, told reporters after the Thursday morning session.
"We should take the best product we can get and send it back to the House," he said.
There had been discussion throughout the week that bill opponents could invoke a filibuster, a delay tool not available in the House, but the measure's chances looked dim Thursday.
Miller, a bill opponent who worked to prevent a filibuster last year, said he is confident he has the 29 votes needed for cloture, which would cut off debate.
"I'm going to lose a couple votes for cloture that I had last year, but I'm going to pick up a couple as well," he told reporters.
The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced the controversial legislation to the Senate floor on Tuesday, after the bill slid through the House with just a single vote to spare.
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.
The same-sex marriage bill could reach O'Malley's desk as early as Friday.