A week of partisan moves over gay marriage reached a zenith yesterday when the House of Delegates refused to revive a bill to put the question of same-sex unions on the ballot in November.
Lawmakers handily turned back a Republican led-effort to resuscitate a bill that died Thursday night in a committee. The vote was procedural on its face, but at the heart of discussion lay one of the most contentious questions facing this year's General Assembly: whether to place on the ballot a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage.
Yesterday's vote was a blow to Republican lawmakers, who vowed to keep the gay marriage debate alive. A differently worded constitutional amendment to outlaw same-sex marriage has been filed in the Senate, and House Republicans said they plan to file companion measures.
"This is a case of more obfuscation by the Democrats," said Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell of Southern Maryland, House minority whip, who accused Democrats of using parliamentary maneuvers to prohibit debate. "The only clear thing you can take out of this, is that those who voted red voted against protecting the institution of marriage."
Democrats, many of whom strategized behind the scenes to keep the debate over gay marriage from coming to the House floor, denied the accusation. They said the bill was fairly considered and that Republicans were simply upset that their effort failed.
"The fact of the matter is there is a process," said House Speaker Michael E. Busch, an Anne Arundel County Democrat. "What would have been a fairer public process? The only complaint the opposing party had this week is that their opinion did not prevail."
Democrats do not think there are enough votes for a constitutional amendment to be placed on the ballot even if another bill revives the issue. To alter the Maryland Constitution, the House and Senate must approve an amendment by a three-fifths' majority. The measure then goes before voters in the next general election. Unlike in other states, Maryland citizens cannot start amendment drives on their own.
Conservative lawmakers began pressing for a constitutional amendment two weeks ago, when Baltimore Circuit Judge M. Brooke Murdock ruled that Maryland's 33-year-old law defining marriage as being between a man and a woman was unconstitutional. Murdock stayed her decision pending an appeal that was immediately filed by the state attorney general's office.
Nationwide, states have struggled with the issue of gay rights, creating what constitutional law professors have called a patchwork of laws defining civil rights protections in some states while codifying restrictions on marriage in others. In a handful of states, resolutions on whether gays and lesbians should be permitted to marry have been deliberated for years in courts and legislatures.
Nineteen states have amended their constitutions to outlaw gay marriage, and at least four others are expected to place the question on the ballot this fall. The discussion yesterday in Annapolis was less raucous than Thursday night's committee meeting, but several lawmakers made verbal jabs.
"Do you trust the judicial committee or do you trust the people of Maryland?" said Del. Christopher B. Shank, a Washington County Republican, to which many legislators responded with groans.
House Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve, a Montgomery County Democrat, said, "This constitutional amendment has been before us many times. It was voted down two years ago, and there was no stifling of the process then. ... This year, it was voted down in committee again, and there was no stifling of the process."
This year's debate took on an overt political tone, with both parties aware of the possible implications on Election Day.
Some political experts say an amendment on same-sex marriage can benefit Republicans because the issue draws more conservative voters to the polls. Others think the issue also turns out liberal voters who might see it as an issue of civil liberties.
House conservatives used unusual procedures in trying to propel the debate to the floor. Del. Donald H. Dwyer Jr., an Anne Arundel County Republican, drafted a petition that, with 47 signatures, would have allowed him to remove the bill from a committee and bring it directly to the House floor.
Dwyer revealed Thursday that he had the signatures needed - including four from Democrats - but blamed Busch for cutting short the morning House session to prevent Dwyer from raising the issue.
Busch denied that he was stifling discussion, saying the bill first deserved a committee vote.
Thursday night, the House Judiciary Committee rejected the bill. Yesterday, proponents used a rarely seen House procedure that allows a failed bill to come to full debate with a majority vote. Supporters needed 71 of the House's 141 votes to permit a discussion. They fell short as the House voted 78-61 to uphold the committee's rejection, with 19 Democrats voting to discuss the bill.
Del. Eric M. Bromwell, a Baltimore County Democrat, said he voted for the measure because the issue deserves debate.
"I have had hundreds of constituents contact me who feel very strongly about it," he said. "With all the politics that have gone into this issue, we really have lost a lot of what should have been talked about."
The roll call
Nineteen Democrats sided with 42 Republicans on a House of Delegates vote yesterday to bring a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage up for a full debate. The attempt to revive the bill, rejected a day earlier by the House Judiciary Committee, failed on a 61-78 vote. One Republican sided with 77 Democrats in opposition.
John S. Arnick, D-Baltimore County Susan L. M. Aumann, R-Baltimore County Joseph R. Bartlett, R-Frederick Gail H. Bates, R-Howard David G. Boschert, R-Anne Arundel Joseph C. Boteler III, R-Baltimore County Bennett Bozman, D-Worcester Eric M. Bromwell, D-Baltimore County Emmett C. Jr. Burns, D-Baltimore County Joan Cadden, D-Anne Arundel Rudolph C. Cane, D-Wicomico County John W. E. Cluster Jr., R-Baltimore County Mary A. Conroy, D-Prince George's Norman H. Conway, D-Wicomico County Robert A. Costa, R-Anne Arundel Steven J. DeBoy Sr., D-Baltimore County John P. Donoghue, D-Washington Donald H. Jr. Dwyer, R-Anne Arundel Adelaide C. Eckardt, R-Dorchester George C. Edwards, R-Garrett Donald B. Elliott, R-Carroll D. Page Elmore, R-Somerset William J. Frank, R-Baltimore County Terry R. Gilleland Jr., R-Anne Arundel Barry Glassman, R-Harford Jeannie Haddaway, R-Talbot Patrick N. Hogan, R-Frederick Richard K. Impallaria, R-Baltimore County Mary-Dulany James, D-Harford J. B. Jennings, R-Baltimore County A. Wade Kach, R-Baltimore County Darryl A. Kelley, D-Prince George's Kevin Kelly, D-Allegany Sheryl L. Davis-Kohl, R-Harford Susan W. Krebs, R-Carroll John R. Leopold, R-Anne Arundel James E. Malone Jr., D-Baltimore County W. Daniel Mayer, R-Charles Susan K. McComas, R-Harford Tony McConkey, R-Anne Arundel Patrick L. McDonough, R-Baltimore County Robert A. McKee, R-Washington Herbert H. McMillan, R-Anne Arundel Warren E. Miller, R-Howard Joseph J. Minnick, D-Baltimore County LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Allegany Anthony J. O'Donnell, R-Calvert Joanne S. Parrott, R-Harford David D. Rudolph, D-Cecil County Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington Tanya Thornton Shewell, R-Carroll Michael D. Smigiel Sr., R-Cecil Theodore J. Sophocleus, D-Anne Arundel Richard A. Sossi, R-Queen Anne's Nancy R. Stocksdale, R-Carroll Paul S. Stull, R-Frederick John G. Trueschler, R-Baltimore County Mary Roe Walkup, R-Kent Michael H. Weir Jr., D-Baltimore County Richard B. Weldon Jr., R-Frederick John F. Wood Jr., D-St. Mary's
Curtis S. "Curt" Anderson,, D-Baltimore City Charles E. Barkley, D-Montgomery Kumar P. Barve, D-Montgomery Joanne C. Benson, D-Prince George's Elizabeth Bobo, D-Howard County John L. Bohanan Jr., D-St. Mary's Talmadge Branch, D-Baltimore City William A. Bronrott, D-Montgomery Anthony G. Brown, D-Prince George's Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel Jon S. Cardin, D-Baltimore County Jill P. Carter, D-Baltimore City Galen R. Clagett, D-Frederick County Virginia P. Clagett, D-Anne Arundel Jean B. Cryor, R-Montgomery Clarence Davis, D-Baltimore City Dereck E. Davis, D-Prince George's Ann Marie Doory, D-Baltimore City Kathleen M. Dumais, D-Montgomery Brian J. Feldman, D-Montgomery Peter Franchot, D-Montgomery Barbara A. Frush, D-Prince George's Tawanna P. Gaines, D-Prince George's Marilyn R. Goldwater, D-Montgomery Marshall T. Goodwin, D-Baltimore City Michael R. Gordon, D-Montgomery Melony Ghee Griffith, D-Prince George's Ana Sol Gutierrez, D-Montgomery Peter A. Hammen, D-Baltimore City Hattie N. Harrison, D-Baltimore City Keith E. Haynes, D-Baltimore City Anne Healey, D-Prince George's Henry B. Heller, D-Montgomery Sheila E. Hixson, D-Montgomery Marvin E. Jr. Holmes, D-Prince George's Carolyn J. B. Howard, D-Prince George's James W. Hubbard, D-Prince George's Sally Y. Jameson, D-Charles Adrienne A. Jones, D-Baltimore County Anne R. Kaiser, D-Montgomery Nancy J. King, D-Montgomery Ruth M. Kirk, D-Baltimore City Carolyn J. Krysiak, D-Baltimore City Sue Kullen, D-Calvert Jane E. Lawton, D-Montgomery Susan C. Lee, D-Montgomery Murray D. Levy, D-Charles Mary Ann Love, D-Anne Arundel Richard S. Madaleno, Jr., D-Montgomery Adrienne A. Mandel, D-Montgomery Salima S. Marriott, D-Baltimore City Brian K. McHale, D-Baltimore City Maggie L. McIntosh, D-Baltimore City Pauline H. Menes, D-Prince George's Brian R. Moe, D-Prince George's Karen S. Montgomery, D-Montgomery Dan K. Morhaim, D-Baltimore County Gareth E. Murray, D-Montgomery Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, D-Baltimore County Doyle L. Niemann, D-Prince George's Nathaniel T. Oaks, D-Baltimore City Jeffrey A. Paige, D-Baltimore City Rosetta C. Parker, D-Prince George's Obie Patterson, D-Prince George's Shane E. Pendergrass, D-Howard County Carol S. Petzold, D-Montgomery James E. Proctor Jr., D-Prince George's Catherine E. Pugh, D-Baltimore City Neil F. Quinter, D-Howard County Victor R. Ramirez, D-Prince George's Justin D. Ross, D-Prince George's Luiz R. S. Simmons, D-Montgomery Joan F. Stern, D-Montgomery Frank S. Turner, D-Howard County Veronica L. Turner, D-Prince George's Joseph F. Vallario Jr., D-Prince George's Michael L. Vaughn, D-Prince George's Bobby A. Zirkin, D-Baltimore County
Absent Samuel I. Rosenberg, D-Baltimore City Herman L. Taylor II, D-Montgomery