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A hot issue for lawmakers

Same-sex marriage is a hot-button issue. It is highly personal and emotional. Normal political persuasion doesn't work.

The governor can't gain votes by offering lawmakers appointments, support on a capital project or help with a local problem.

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That's because when it comes to divisive social issues, lawmakers' positions often are based on religious, moral or ethical beliefs.

Gov. Martin O'Malley has put considerable effort into winning votes for his Civil Marriage Protection Act. Changing minds hasn't been easy.

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Opponents of same-sex marriage frequently hold deep religious or moral objections. Those feelings aren't subject to the shifting winds of legislative sentiment or public opinion.

Nor are those objections likely to fade in the face of heart-rending personal stories or legal arguments for equal civil rights.

Roman Catholic lawmakers know their church hierarchy is deeply opposed. Ministers of many large African American churches inveigh against gay marriages. Orthodox Jews - a growing presence in the Pikesville area - reject such unions, as do evangelical groups.

No wonder the country is deeply split. While judges in California try to make same-sex marriage a legal civil right, a majority of that state's voters express opposition.

A similar situation keeps occurring in other states. In no state has a gay marriage ballot question won voter approval.

If the governor and proponents cobble together the necessary votes in Annapolis, there could be a jubilant bill-signing ceremony followed by a huge letdown in November.

Recent Maryland polls show advocates for same-sex marriage may not have a majority of citizens on their side.

A Washington Post poll found 53 percent of Maryland blacks opposed, including 59 percent of blacks in Prince George's County - a pivotal jurisdiction. A Gonzales poll showed 60 percent of African Americans statewide opposed to same-sex marriage.

Without strong support from black voters, the bill could be in trouble.

Opponents, including Republicans and tea party activists, are ready to launch a referendum petition drive.

They had no trouble gaining enough signatures last year for a ballot challenge to a law giving children of illegal immigrants who ilve in Maryland in-state tuition. It would be even easier to petition a gay marriage law to the ballot.

Baltimore County will be a key jurisdiction. Two of its conservative lawmakers, Del. Wade Kach of Cockeysville and Del. John Olszewski of Dundalk, abandoned their opposition to the bill last week. That decision may not be popular in their conservative districts and could be used against them in their 2014 reelection bids.

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The United States remains a tradition-bound country. Religious conservatism continues to hold sway. That's one reason why some social reforms take many decades.

So while supporters of the Civil Marriage Protection Act continue their fervent crusade for marriage equality in Annapolis, it is likely to take longer than they expect to reach their goal.

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