Two religious Democrats, Pam Beidle and Johnny Olszewski, both said this afternoon that they would support Gov. Martin O'Malley's same-sex marriage bill. Both had expressed concerns about the legalization for religious reasons.
Beidle, a Catholic, said she made up her mind this morning when a gay constituent explained that her son could not attend a charter school in the county because she does not have a marriage certificate. "I'm very disappointed in the school," Beidle said. "It has just pushed me over."
Beidle rarely speaks on the floor, but said she told her colleagues about the letter and her decision during a Democratic caucus meeting this morning.
Olszewski, a United Methodist, also was uncertain about this bill and pressed O'Malley to make religious protections stronger this year. He said in a statement today that he would have preferred to support civil unions -- an arrangement that grants the legal protections of marriage. But he said it would be a "disgrace" to go another year without giving Marylanders "equal protection."
The two votes help O'Malley firm up support for the bill, but passage remains uncertain.
One key supporter, Del. Veronica Turner, was taken to the emergency room last night for a health problem, according to her office. She remains in the hospital.
The House is still set to go back into session around 5:30 p.m.
Olszewski's full statement is below:
“Through the course of this debate, I have always tried to strike a balance between providing equal rights under the law and ensuring that religious freedoms remain wholly intact. That is why I worked closely with the Governor, legislative leaders, and attorneys to strengthen the religious protections in the bill. I am confident that this legislation now has some of the strongest language in the country to protect religious institutions.
"While members of my church – and I am sure many communities – disagree over this issue, I simply cannot vote to deny other individuals access to the same legal rights and responsibilities that are given to me and my wife by the State."
"My Christian faith is important to me. It is not the role of the State to tell my church – or any other faith community – what its beliefs can and cannot be. To that end, I have preferred the implementation of civil unions, but to go another day – or let alone another year, or perhaps longer – denying equal rights to all Marylanders would be a disgrace. I will be voting for the marriage equality legislation tomorrow.”