House panel delays gay marriage vote at least a day
Update: The House Judiciary Committee did not vote on same-sex marriage this evening. Delegates on the committee, even some sponsors, say they need more time to think.
The development comes after hours of talks between the House leadership and several co-sponsors who said they wanted to withhold support to draw attention to other issues, including education funding and unrelated family law bills.
Chairman Joseph F. Vallario says he'll assess the situation tomorrow and decide how to proceed. Republicans are angry, saying the Democratic leadership is making too many accommodations for a bill that they say Maryland residents do not support.
Del. Jill Carter, a Baltimore Democrat, said she is reluctant to vote on legislation that would legalize marriage for same-sex couples until other issues, including a child custody bill and education funding, gain traction in the General Assembly this year.
Carter was one of two delegates supportive of gay marriage who staged a walkout this morning during a specially scheduled vote on the marriage proposal -- which has already cleared the Senate and had been expected to make it out of the House committee today.
But Carter said there are "more important, or at least equally important" issues that she would like to see fast-tracked in the way that, in her view, gay marriage has been. And she said that until she hears from House leadership, she does not plan to cast a committee vote in favor of the Civil Marriage Protection Act.
She is a critical vote: The House Judiciary Committee contains only exactly enough "yes" votes to get the same-sex marriage proposal out of committee and to the House floor for debate by the entire 141-member chamber.
Judiciary Chairman Joseph F. Vallario said his committee would vote on the bill this evening, but it's now unclear if that will happen.
Carter said lawmakers should be devoting their energy to restoring education funding cuts to Baltimore and Prince George's County (Gov. Martin O'Malley's budget plan calls for several million dollars in reduced funding to those two jurisdictions) and to her own bill to provide a presumption of joint custody to divorcing couples.
She said that while she believes in the civil rights of gay couples who want to marry, she wants to "send a message to leadership" that there are other critical issues, too.
"It's important, but there's other very important things," she said.
Carter said there's no need to "fast-track" gay marriage since the 90-day session is only about half over and lawmakers are in their first year of a four-year term.
She said she is "absolutely" willing to take a hit for withdrawing her support on gay marriage if it makes a larger point about her favored issues.
"I'm trying to leverage the vote to get something for my constituents," she said.
Carter predicted the Judiciary Committee would not vote on gay marriage until House leadership has appeased her. "They can't vote for the bill without my vote."
The other delegate who was absent from committee this morning, Del. Tiffany Alston, a Prince George's County Democrat, has yet to appear at a 1 p.m. committee hearing on unrelated bills. (Update: Alston arrived just before 2 p.m.)