Gay marriage debate over for the year
Debate on whether Maryland should legalize same-sex marriage has ended for the year, without the House of Delegates weighing in on the divisive issue.
Instead of voting as planned today, the House moved the bill backward -- returning it to the committee that nearly killed it last week. House Speaker Michael E. Busch said his chamber won't see the issue on the floor again this year, even though the Senate passed it last month by a vote of 25-21.
By moving the bill back into committee rather than taking a final vote, the 141 delegates avoided putting on record their position on gay marriage.
Had a vote been taken today, it would have come within a delegate or two of passage, House leaders said. Advocates believe they were a single vote shy.
"The vote would have been very close on the floor, make no mistake about it," said Busch, who supports same-sex marriage.
About 10 delegates did not feel comfortable casting a vote today, Busch said, and wanted more time to learn about what the bill would do.
The move back to committee came after more than two hours of impassioned speeches.
Several openly gay lawmakers made personal appeals to their colleagues, while some religious lawmakers said they could not turn away from their deeply held beliefs.
The House fell silent as Del. Heather Mizeur, who is Catholic and is openly gay, said she is an old soul and knew she was gay and also deeply spiritual at a young age. She said she also knew she wanted to be an elected official. God, she said, has helped her reconcile those roles. She concluded by telling her colleagues she loved them.
Earlier, Del. Steve Schuh had made the case that many of the lawmakers who had planned to vote no -- like himself -- are not against gay people but merely do not want to expand the state's definition of marriage. The Anne Arundel Republican said marriage is subsidized by the state to ensure procreation.
Advocates worked furiously last night to secure support from a handful of delegates who had not disclosed their voting plans, even entertaining a late attempt at giving additional protection to religious groups who do not condone gay marriage.
Dozens of supporters and opponents filled the House galleries to watch the historic debate. This year marked the first time the General Assembly debated gay marriage on its chamber floors.