ANNAPOLIS – The Senate voted Thursday to outlaw same-sex marriages performed in other states and countries, a bill opponents blasted as unnecessary since Maryland already outlaws such unions.
“There is already a law on the books that puts restrictions on these people,” said Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s. “This bill says ignore those people, let’s go back 50 years.”
Despite the impassioned opposition of those who said the bill is another slap in the face to homosexuals in Maryland, the Senate voted 28-18 in favor of the bill.
The measure now goes to the House of Delegates, where opponents have managed to kill it in each of the last two years.
Currently, Maryland law defines marriage as a legal union between a man and a woman and states that members of same-sex marriages are not entitled to the benefits of marriage.
The bill approved Thursday would extend that ban to same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. Two men in Hawaii have gone to the state Supreme Court in an effort to get a marriage license there.
In testimony earlier this month before the Judicial Proceedings Committee, proponents of the bill said it protects the sanctity of marriage.
But there was little vocal support for the bill on the floor Thursday and lawmakers appeared reluctant to talk about the touchy issue.
“I certainly feel it’s our obligation to protect the civil rights of all our citizens,” said Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton, D- Charles, after the vote. Despite that, Middleton said he voted for the bill because he feels marriage is a sacred institution between a man and woman and the bill “just reaffirms that.”
Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller, D-Prince George’s, voted for the bill but said he would have been happier if the issue had never reached the floor.
“This legislation was not needed. I wasn’t aware of any problems this has caused in the state,” said Miller.
“I believe in live and let live,” he said Thursday night. “But at the same time, I remain personally and philosophically opposed to same-sex marriages.”
Opponents dominated the 20-minute floor debate in Thursday morning’s session.
Sen. Nathaniel McFadden, D-Baltimore, said that while he is very happy with his wife and his heterosexuality, people’s sexual orientation should not be discussed in the State House.
“This is a horrible bill. It is a bill that should not be before us,” McFadden said. “If it were not for an election year it would not be here.”
Sen. Joan Conway, D-Baltimore, said she was also concerned that the bill might preempt Baltimore City’s Gay and Lesbian Employee Domestic Partner Benefits Program. That program lets same-sex partners of city employees get the same health and other benefits that a city worker’s husband or wife would get.
But Conway’s proposal to specifically exclude the Baltimore program from the bill failed after an opinion from the Attorney General’s Office said the program would not be affected by the bill.
“This bill has absolutely nothing to do with what was being defined as domestic partnership in the attorney general’s letter,” said Sen. Larry Haines, R-Carroll, who voted in favor of the bill.
Kathy Nieberding-Ryan, a lobbyist for the Free State Justice Campaign, which represents homosexuals, said the group will oppose the bill when it arrives in the House.
“We expected the vote. The battle will now be in the House Judiciary Committee,” she said. — Capital News Service reporters Keisha Stewart and Daniel Valentine contributed to this report.