By TOM LoBIANCO
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) – Advocates and opponents of gay marriage took their pitches to the Democratic-controlled Senate on Tuesday afternoon, seeking to lobby a key committee over whether to make Maryland the sixth state in which members of the same sex could marry.
Supporters and opponents were to make their case before an afternoon hearing of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller’s reorganization of the committee after last year’s elections — six of the bill’s sponsors are now on the 11-member committee — has likely cleared the bill to advance to a floor vote that could come as early as next week.
Miller said the urgency to move the measure this year, as opposed to previous years, is more a function of national trends – including the successful repeal of the federal “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays in the military and other states in the Northeast legalizing gay marriage.
“This is a national trend, this is not a state of Maryland trend,” he said Tuesday.
Miller, D-Calvert, has said that although he will vote against the bill itself, he would vote to end debate on the measure, should opponents resort to a filibuster. That, and the stated support of 20 of the 24 senators needed to move a bill, has supporters “cautiously optimistic.”
“Clearly, the vote is close,” said Mary Ellen Russell, executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference, which opposes the bill. “Hopefully this issue can be decided quickly and put to rest for the rest of the session.”
If lawmakers approve, Maryland would become the sixth state in which members of the same sex could marry, joining Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. The District of Columbia has also legalized gay marriage.
Rhode Island legislators are also considering a marriage bill this year, and the New York legislature could take up the issue later this year.
But even in one of the bluest of the politically blue states, tinges of red-state conservatism still flash. Moderate to conservative Democrats, such as Miller, have announced their plans to vote against the bill.
“We take nothing for granted,” said Lisa Polyak, vice president of the board of directors for Equality Maryland, which is lobbying in support of the measure. “We’re definitely moving one step at a time.”
Polyak was co-plaintiff with her partner, Gita Deane, in a lawsuit seeking to approve gay marriage in the state. However, Maryland’s highest court upheld in 2007 the state’s law that defines marriage as the union between a man and a woman.
House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, said Tuesday he is holding off on action in the House of Delegates.
“We’re waiting on a bill from the Senate,” Busch said. Busch noted that despite Democrats holding 98 of the House’s 141 seats, a vote for the measure would likely be close in his chamber, as well.
“If it doesn’t (pass the Senate), obviously, it ends the debate for the year,” Busch said.
Read Senate Bill 116: