Maryland Senate clears marriage bill

The Maryland Senate on Thursday gave final legislative approval to a marriage equality bill that the governor is expected to soon sign. The vote was 25 to 22.

Meanwhile, the Maine Secretary of State confirmed Thursday that activists have turned in enough valid signatures to put a pro-marriage equality measure on the ballot there in November.

The vote marked the third time a state legislature has given final approval to marriage equality in the past two weeks. Two of the three states (in Maryland and Washington) are likely to be put the law before voters this November. The third state (New Jersey) had the legislation immediately vetoed by its governor.

The Maryland House of Delegates passed the marriage equality bill February 17 with a bare minimum of 71 votes, but there is no threat of veto here. Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, sponsored the bill and is poised to sign it.

Like the House, the Senate debated and rejected a number of hostile amendments, including efforts to censor sex education courses for students and to write into the legislation explicit statements saying that minors cannot marry other minors. One amendment sought an exemption for landlords who want to refusing housing to same-sex couples. Another sought to ensure that the state could continue to recognize “Mother’s Day” and “Father’s Day.” Any amendment would have forced the bill back to the House for a concurring vote.

Senator David Brinkley, a Republican, slowed consideration of the bill by reading a prolonged letter opposing the legislation, citing religious objections. Senate President Thomas Miller, a Democrat, interrupted at one point and encouraged Brinkley to “speed read” or wait until others had a chance to speak before attempting his apparent filibuster.

Brinkley eventually sought approval for an amendment with a broad exemption for people, businesses, and religious institutions who have religious objections to same-sex marriage.

Six states plus the District of Columbia now have full marriage equality: Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont.

Washington State Governor Chris Gregoire signed that state’s marriage equality legislation on February 13, but the law cannot take effect until June and will likely be delayed even longer by a referendum. Activists in Maine hope to establish marriage equality through a pro-active ballot measure this November.

Voters in North Carolina will be given an opportunity to establish a ban on same-sex marriage there in May. Voters in Minnesota will consider a similar ban in November. An effort to put a pro-active pro-same-sex marriage measure on the ballot in California in November recently dissolved but was never considered to be well-supported by the LGBT community.

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