As a lifelong Roman Catholic, state Sen. Katherine Klausmeier grew up with the clear understanding that marriage is between a man and a woman.
But the Baltimore County Democrat also empathizes with young gay couples, including two women who recently sat in her office and described the joy of raising children.
As the Senate prepares to consider making same-sex marriage legal in Maryland, Klausmeier wakes up in the morning believing she'll vote one way, but by the end of the day has a different idea.
"To me it is one of the most major bills I'll ever vote on," said Klausmeier, who has served 16 years in the General Assembly. "Ten years from now, whatever happens, I will look back and say, 'Wow, I remember when that happened.'"
Klausmeier is one of a half-dozen lawmakers who have yet to declare a position on the bill — a group large enough to determine its fate.
A Sun analysis of the 47-member chamber shows 20 solid supporters; 24 are needed for passage. Of the six who are undeclared, Klausmeier and Democratic Sens. Joan Carter Conway and Ulysses Currie said they remain undecided; Sens. John Astle, Edward Kasemeyer and James Rosapepe, all Democrats, declined to share their voting plans.
"I'm holding my cards," said Astle, of Anne Arundel County. "It's probably going to be the most emotional issue this session."
If the Senate approves the measure, it will go to the House of Delegates, where its backers say they have the votes to pass it.
Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, has said he would sign such a bill. Opponents could then seek a referendum to overturn it, and the voters would decide.
With passage, Maryland would become the sixth state to recognize same-sex marriage. It is also legal in the District of Columbia.
The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, a majority of whose members support the bill, hears testimony Tuesday. But the debate is already under way.
Gay-rights group Equality Maryland is planning a Valentine's Day lobbying blitz, and the Maryland Catholic Conference says it will bring hundreds of opponents to Annapolis the following week.
The schedules of undeclared lawmakers have filled with visits from church leaders and same-sex couples.
Even those who have made their positions known are hearing from activists. Sen. James Robey, a Howard County Democrat who supports the bill, said his office received something like 55 calls in a row from opponents last week.
The issue has already had an impact on the Senate this year. Sen. Allan H. Kittleman resigned as minority leader last month after fellow Republicans urged him not to introduce a bill to legalize same-sex civil unions.
Finding little support for civil unions from either side of the debate, the Howard County Republican has since announced that he will vote for the gay marriage bill. The Senate Republican caucus said last week it would oppose the legislation.
Sen. Richard Madaleno, Maryland's first and only openly gay state senator, said he has not lobbied his colleagues. But the Montgomery County Democrat hopes his presence — and that of his partner of 10 years and their two young adopted children — have had an influence on them.
After several years pushing for gay marriage, he has called this year a "magical moment" for the movement.
Religion has loomed large in the debate.
Nearly one-third of the senators are Catholic, according to the Maryland Catholic Conference, and many other legislators are deeply involved in other churches. Sen. C. Anthony Muse, a Prince George's County Democrat who opposes same-sex marriage, is senior pastor of the Ark of Safety Christian Church in Upper Marlboro.
The Rev. Derek McCoy, leader of a political action committee called Maryland Citizen's Clergy, is organizing pastors to preach against the bill on Sundays.
When lobbying, he said, he tries to impress upon lawmakers that the institution of marriage has biblical roots: He says God defined it as the union of a man and a woman in the Genesis account of Adam and Eve.
"We did not define it originally, and we cannot redefine it now," McCoy said.
Other faith-based organizations support the legislation. New Ways Ministry is planning a conference in Pikesville that organizer Francis DeBernardo said will point out that lay Catholics "have a different approach to the question of marriage equality than their bishops do."
The bill, which its authors have named the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act, would not require religious institutions to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies, or give money or special privileges to any that do.
Robey has been a member of Gary Memorial United Methodist Church near Ellicott City for 65 years. He was married in a religious ceremony, as was his son.
"I believe in God," said Robey, a former Howard County executive and police chief. "But I also believe that everyone should have the same rights."
Many senators say their views have been shaped by the people they represent — an influence that advocates on both sides are trying to turn to their advantage.
Frank Weiss, a 71-year-old Lutherville man, is among dozens who have called Sen. James Brochin's office to urge him to vote against the bill.
"I told him I do not want a change in what has been the historic understanding of marriage for the past 2,000 years," he said. "No other arrangement is appropriate."
Brochin, a Baltimore County Democrat, also received an office visit from a lesbian couple from Lutherville, Sally Wall and Pat Montley, who have lived together for 31 years.
"He's very cordial and gracious to us," Wall said. "But he has been very forthright about his position."
Brochin said he intends to vote against the bill, citing the large number of Orthodox Jews and Catholics he represents.
But Klausmeier was moved by the lesbian couple who came to see her recently.
"They have a baby, and they are just so excited about it," she said. "You think, 'Why do I have to interfere with their happiness?'"
She reflects on her upbringing, when she was taught to view marriage as between a man and a woman.
"But as time goes on, I have more friends who are gay, and they are no different than I am," she said. "No matter what I do, I'm going to have people angry with me."
Polls show that Marylanders are closely divided on the issue. Fifty-one percent surveyed by Gonzales Research last month said they would support legislation to recognize same-sex marriage; 44 percent said they would oppose it.
The same poll showed 62 percent support for civil unions. That legal arrangement is not popular with gay-marriage supporters, who say it does not go far enough, or with gay-marriage opponents, who say it goes too far.
Conway is one of several senators who wishes the debate were about civil unions. She said she whole-heartedly supports the concept, though "it took me a long time to get there."
She is uncertain whether she can make the leap to backing gay marriage. She finds herself torn between her religious background and her sympathies for minority groups.
As a black woman, she said, she views herself as a "double minority" — and so is uncomfortable with casting a vote that would cause anyone to feel subjected to discrimination.
Conway said her district, which includes Ednor Gardens, Waverly, Guilford and other North Baltimore neighborhoods, is about evenly split on the issue. The three delegates in her district are co-sponsoring the House version of the legislation.
Conway said she would not support the Senate bill if it appears to be failing. But if there are 23 "yes" votes on the board, she said, she will "pray really hard" and make her choice.
Advocates have attempted to frame same-sex marriage as a modern-day civil rights struggle. Kittleman, for example, says his father's work for civil rights has inspired his support for the bill.
Others don't see a connection.
"I was very much a civil rights warrior," said Sen. Joanne Benson, a Prince George's County Democrat who said she participated in sit-ins and marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. but opposes the legislation.
"I do not view gay marriage as a civil rights issue."
How they'd vote
Question: Do you intend to vote for or against the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act?
Sen. Bill Ferguson, Baltimore Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Jennie Forehand, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Brian Frosh, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Rob Garagiola, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Lisa Gladden, Baltimore Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Verna Jones, Baltimore Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Delores Kelley, Baltimore County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Nancy King, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Allan H. Kittleman, Howard County Republican
Sen. Richard Madaleno, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Roger Manno, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Nathaniel McFadden, Baltimore Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Karen Montgomery, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Paul Pinsky, Prince George's County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Catherine E. Pugh, Baltimore Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Victor Ramirez, Prince George's County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Jamie Raskin, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. James Robey, Howard County Democrat
Sen. Ronald Young, Frederick County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Bobby Zirkin, Baltimore County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Joanne Benson, Prince George's County Democrat
Sen. David Brinkley, Carroll and Frederick counties Republican
Sen. James Brochin, Baltimore County Democrat
Sen. Richard Colburn, Eastern Shore Republican
Sen. James DeGrange, Anne Arundel County Democrat
Sen. Roy Dyson, Southern Maryland Democrat
Sen. George Edwards, Western Maryland Republican
Sen. Joseph Getty, Baltimore and Carroll counties Republican
Sen. Barry Glassman, Harford County Republican
Sen. Nancy Jacobs, Harford and Cecil counties Republican
Sen. J.B. Jennings, Baltimore and Harford counties Republican
Sen. James Mathias, Eastern Shore Democrat
Sen. Thomas Middleton, Charles County Democrat
Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller, Prince George's and Calvert counties Democrat
Sen. C. Anthony Muse, Prince George's County Democrat
Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters, Prince George's County Democrat
Sen. E.J. Pipkin, Eastern Shore Republican
Sen. Edward Reilly, Anne Arundel County Republican
Sen. Christopher Shank, Washington County Republican
Sen. Bryan Simonaire, Anne Arundel County Republican
Sen. Norman Stone, Baltimore County Democrat
No public position
Sen. John Astle, Anne Arundel County Democrat
Sen. Joan Carter Conway, Baltimore Democrat
Sen. Ulysses Currie, Prince George's County Democrat
Sen. Edward Kasemeyer, Baltimore and Howard counties Democrat
Sen. Katherine Klausmeier, Baltimore County Democrat
Sen. James Rosapepe, Prince George's County Democrat