By BRIAN WITTE
ANNAPOLIS, Md. – Gov. Martin O’Malley said he will push harder for a same-sex marriage measure in Maryland next year if it mirrors legislation that passed in New York after changes were made to protect religious freedom.
“I think we can learn from what they did,” O’Malley, a Democrat, said last week while attending the National Governors Association meeting in Salt Lake City. “One of the things we’re looking at in the drafting is how their clauses with regard to religious freedom were different from ours. That might improve our efforts. And I certainly plan to be very active in support of it, and we’ll have other announcements in upcoming months.”
O’Malley said he is talking with a broad coalition that has formed around the issue.
Gay marriage legislation passed the Maryland Senate this year, but stalled in the House of Delegates. The House sent the bill back to committee after it was determined it was a few votes short.
While O’Malley said he would have signed the bill this year if it had passed, he did not include it in his list of legislative priorities. Now he said he believes he can help make more of a difference in another try.
“There are times in Annapolis when a governor’s support can move an issue over the goal line…. This is one of those issues that can be resolved, as New York showed, with proper protections in place for religious freedoms,” O’Malley said.
Religious exemptions were critical to the New York measure’s passage. That bill was changed so that state and local governments could not penalize or withhold benefits from a religious institution or a nonprofit under its control for barring access to same-sex ceremonies.
Lawmakers in Maryland considered stronger protections for religious institutions in the state’s House of Delegates. An amendment was offered that would have gone farther to protect religious institutions from being forced to participate in gay weddings. But the amendment was rejected. House leadership had indicated that any changes to the Senate’s bill would have kept it from being approved there and sent to O’Malley for his signature.
In Maryland, same-sex marriage supporters rekindled debate on the issue this week by announcing the new coalition to push for passage next year. Their announcement brought a swift response from opponents, who vowed to return to Annapolis to keep Maryland’s marriage laws unchanged.
Opponents underscored the state’s mechanism for voters to petition legislation to the ballot, a petition process currently being used by opponents of separate legislation that would allow in-state tuition for illegal immigrants under certain circumstances.
State Sen. Richard Madaleno, a Montgomery County Democrat, said he met with the governor to discuss same-sex marriage legislation.
“The governor is interested in understanding the differences in the bill that passed the Maryland Senate, the new law enacted in New York and what religious exemptions are elsewhere in the country,” Madaleno, an openly gay lawmaker, said.
Madaleno also said the legislation is still very much under discussion.
“I think there are many people who are hopeful that the governor will decide to introduce this bill next year,” Madaleno said.
Joe Bryce, O’Malley’s chief legislative officer, said the administration is having internal discussions about legislation and meeting with lawmakers.