Baltimore Sun

Senate vote on same-sex marriage expected tonight

Senators launched the final phase of their debate on the same-sex marriage bill this morning. The body discussed the bill for about two hours this morning.

They will reconvene at 5:30 p.m. and many expect to hold the final vote this evening.

The Senate gave preliminary approval to the Civil Marriage Protection Act with a 25-22 vote yesterday, a strong signal that the bill will achieve final passage. GOP leaders have threatened to filibuster the measure, but they've acknowledged they don't have the votes to stall the bill indefinitely.

The debate this morning remained remarkably civil, given lawmakers were discussing an issue on which many have strong opinions.

Sen. Richard Madaleno, the only openly gay member of the Senate, said the current law defining marriage as between a man and a woman: "makes thousands of families never forget that they are outsiders."

He said that many couples in Maryland "are wishing for this." Predicting that the body will pass the bill he said: "This will be a memorable day that will improve thousands of families around the state."

Opponents also invoked history. Sen. Bryan Simonaire, an Anne Arundel County Republican, said the "journals of history" will record Feb. 24, 2011 "as the day traditional marriage died in Maryland." If the House approves the bill, Gov. Martin O'Malley has said he will sign it.

Sen. Pipkin, an Eastern Shore Republican with a libertarian bent, said the state is moving too quickly to full marriage and would prefer Maryland to try out civil unions first. An effort turn the legislation into a civil unions bill in committee failed overwhelmingly.

The issue is not dividing strictly on party lines: Former Senate Minority Leader Allan Kittleman will support the bill and wore a necktie adorned with pictures of President Abraham Lincoln to celebrate the day.

-- Photo credit Julie Bykowicz.