Maryland House committee advances marriage equality bill


ANNAPOLIS, Md. — The Maryland House Judiciary Committee on Friday, narrowly approved the Civil Marriage Protection Act by a vote of 12-10.

Under the bill, same-sex couples in Maryland would be granted the same marriage rights as heterosexuals.

The bill now advances to the full House, and a vote in that chamber could come as early as next week. It has already been approved in the state Senate.

But approval in the House committee late Friday did not come easy. The vote capped a dramatic week where three delegates wavered on their support for the bill, after previously and publicly declaring they would vote for the measure.

On Tuesday morning, Delegates Jill Carter (D-Baltimore) and Tiffany Alston (D-Prince George) delayed the bill when they didn’t show up for the vote, announcing a few hours later that despite prior promises, they were going to refuse to vote yes on the bill until some of their other interests were advanced.

On Thursday, Delegate Sam Arora (D-Montgomery), a co-sponsor of the bill, shocked gay rights advocates when he backtracked on his support for the bill, going so far as to delete a Jan. 25 “tweet” on his Twitter page confirming his support for marriage equality.

Arora suggested he was rethinking his vote, and set off a firestorm of heavy criticism on Facebook and other social media, largely because he had raised massive amounts of money from LGBT constituents

In the end, both Carter and Arora voted to advance the bill to the full House.

Alston, one of the bill’s 59 original co-sponsors, retreated and voted “no.” Before the final vote, Alston attempted to amend the bill to establish civil unions instead of same-sex marriage.

If passed in the Democratic-controlled House, the bill heads to Gov. Martin O’Malley, who has said he will sign the legislation if it reaches his desk.

But ultimately, voters may have the final say. Both sides in the same-sex marriage debate expect opponents to take advantage of a provision in Maryland law that allows citizens to petition just-passed laws onto the ballot if they collect enough signatures.

Opponents would need to gather roughly 55,000 signatures to petition the new law for a referendum, where voters in the 2012 presidential election will decide whether to repeal it or leave it on the books.

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