ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Maryland lawmakers are making good on their promise to introduce marriage equality bills in the state legislature this year, and advocates are optimistic that Maryland will soon become the sixth state to legalize same-sex unions.
In a symbolic move that underscores the momentum building in the “Old Line” State, majority leaders in both chambers will act as lead sponsors of the bills, with the first such bill introduced in the state Senate on Friday.
This morning, Senate Majority Leader Rob Garagiola of Montgomery County introduced the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act (SB116), the preferred plan of gay-rights activists. The legislation would permit same-sex couples to marry but would not require churches to perform the unions.
The House version of that bill is scheduled to be introduced next week by House Majority Leader Kumar Barve of Montgomery County. Equality Maryland, the majority leaders and other lawmakers and same-sex couples will promote the twin bills at a press conference Tuesday in Annapolis.
Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery), an openly gay lawmaker who served as lead sponsor of similar bills in previous years, said Garagiola’s lead role “shows the very strong support” within the Senate, and the Democratic caucus in particular.
Prospects for passing a marriage equality bill have greatly improved since the November elections, when a Democratic pickup of two seats and a shift in committee memberships changed the dynamic in the Senate, where the bills have stalled in the past.
Last week, Republican State Senate Minority Leader Allan H. Kittleman said he would introduce a bill to allow civil unions for both same- and opposite-sex couples in an effort to derail an outright victory for same-sex marriage.
But that announcement put Kittleman at odds with many Republican colleagues, who told him they would not support civil unions legislation either, according to The Washington Post
The move prompted Kittleman to announce Tuesday that he will step down as minority leader because it had become apparent his colleagues did not want a “social moderate” as their leader.