Same-sex marriage set for final deliberations today
Afternoon update: Delegates are rising one after another to speak for and against legislation to legalize same-sex marriages. Two amendments have been offered and rejected.
Baltimore Del. Cheryl Glenn offered a compromise plan that would have changed the bill into civil unions. Like Del. John Olszewski's amendment, described below, it was rejected on a voice vote. House Speaker Michael E. Busch has not allowed roll call votes, which show precisely how many delegates support or oppose something.
Many delegates say the people want to weigh in. The discussion has lasted about 90 minutes so far. No clear sign as to how much longer it'll take -- or which way the House will decide.
Morning update: The House has convened for debate on same-sex marriage. This morning, the House Judiciary Committee decided not to endorse a late amendment to the bill -- thought to have been designed to lure over at least one undecided delegate. That amendment and others may come up soon on the floor.
The House of Delegates plans to vote today on whether to legalize same-sex marriage, a divisive issue that narrowly cleared the Senate and inspired thousands of Marylanders to register their feelings with their legislators.
Heading into the scheduled 11 a.m. debate, only one thing is clear: It'll be a close vote.
Supporters and opponents alike believe the 141-member House is nearly evenly divided. Del. Maggie McIntosh, the senior openly gay legislator, said this week that "a healthy handful" of delegates had yet to disclose their voting plans.
"History now rides on the hearts of several delegates," Sen. Jamie Raskin said Thursday night. The Montgomery County Democrat served as floor leader for the Senate debate. The bill, called the Civil Marriage Protection Act, passed that chamber last month on a 25-21 vote, and Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley has promised to sign the bill if it reaches his desk.
Meanwhile, House Republicans -- whose caucus took a position against the bill -- have heralded the unexpected delays along the bill's road to passage as proof the votes are not there.
An amendment discussed Thursday shows that same-sex marriage supporters have been working overtime to win over each and every possible delegate.
Del. John A. Olszewski Jr. said his amendment, which appears to have been blessed by House and Senate leaders, further shields religious groups that do not condone same-sex relationships from having to provide services of any kind.
Asked Thursday night whether he would support the marriage bill if his amendment is accepted, the Baltimore County Democrat said, "I can't say that at this point. I'm just trying to find a balance between equal rights for all citizens and protections for religion."
Although the legislation enjoyed a relatively smooth ride in the Senate, its pathway through the House has been far rockier.
Along the way, several co-sponsors of the bill decided to oppose it, one supporter temporarily withheld her vote at a critical moment to draw attention to education funding, and a national anti-gay marriage group pledged campaign money to those who agree with its position.
Check the politics blog and our Twitter accounts (above right) for updates throughout the day.