The governor's bill to legalize same-sex marriage in Maryland sailed through the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on Tuesday and is expected to be debated on the Senate floor as early as Wednesday.
Supporters easily defeated two proposed amendments. Either could have killed the bill because any changes would have required another vote in the House of Delegates, where the measure passed by a narrow margin Friday.
Even opponents said they expect the full Senate to approve the legislation. Twenty-four votes are needed for passage in the Senate, and 25 supported a similar measure last year. "I think those votes are locked in," said Sen. Joseph Getty, a Republican who represents Baltimore and Carroll counties.
Republican senators also acknowledged that the Democratic leadership appears to have the 29 votes needed to cut off discussion, preventing a filibuster.
"We're trying to deal with the issue as quickly as we can," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller. "We will have it resolved by the end of this week."
Should the Senate pass the legislation, Maryland would become the eighth state to approve same-sex marriage. But the law would not go into effect until Jan. 1 — and both sides expect it to be on the November ballot as a referendum, where state voters could defeat it.
The Judicial Proceedings Committee approved the bill, called Civil Marriage Protection Act, in a 7-4 vote. The tally was identical to last year's vote in the committee.
There was limited debate about the bill during the voting session, with Republican senators focusing most of their questions on how the expected referendum would work and whether court challenges could be made.
Getty tried to make a small change to the bill, which would have forced it back to the House. He proposed an amendment to move the effective date January 2013 back to October 2012, as the bill was originally drafted.
The committee chairman, Sen. Brian Frosh, reminded senators of the stakes: "Any amendment to the bill sends it back to the House, where it passed with a hair-width majority," said Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat.
To underscore the point, Sen. Jamie Raskin, also a Montgomery Democrat, added: "A little bit of whiteout is the guillotine here. Don't touch the bill if you support it."
The proposal was defeated, 4-7.
Next, Sen. James Brochin, a Baltimore County Democrat, offered an amendment to gut the bill and transform it to a civil unions measure, which would grant same-sex couples rights similar to marriage without providing them a marriage certificate.
As it was last year, it was defeated.