Gay marriage legislation filed in General Assembly
Lawmakers have already put together several bills to legalize same-sex unions -- ensuring the topic will see robust debate in the Maryland General Assembly's 90-day session that began last week. Advocates, and even many legislative leaders, believe some form of gay marriage or civil unions will pass this year.
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.
Also percolating this year is Del. Luiz R.S. Simmons' Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act (HB55), which carries the same name as the majority leaders' bill but appears to be slightly different. Simmons is a Montgomery County Democrat and a member of the House Judiciary Committee, which will listen to testimony on all of the marriage bills.
The most vocal supporter of an alternative to gay marriage -- civil unions -- this year has been Sen. Allan H. Kittleman, a Howard County Republican. Kittleman said he believes that gay and straight couples alike should be able to enter civil contracts that solidify their partnerships. He resigned this week as Senate minority leader when it became clear that the 11 other Republicans in his caucus do not share that view.
Gay-rights activists have praised Kittleman's proposal, which does not appear to have been filed yet, as a step in the right direction. But a civil unions plan falls short, they say, because same-sex couples are treated differently than straight ones.
Opponents are gearing up, as well. This morning, Del. Don H. Dwyer Jr., an Anne Arundel County Republican, was talking to fellow colleagues about a bill he will soon introduce to counteract Maryland's new policy of extending marriage protections to same-sex unions that were lawfully performed in other states.
Last year, Dwyer was the leading opponent of an opinion produced by Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler saying the state should recognize those unions even though marriage is defined in Maryland law as between a man and a woman.
Dwyer's coming legislation would establish that marriage between a man and a woman is the only legally valid union in the state.