ANNAPOLIS – A proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages will be allowed to die quietly in a House committee, with supporters vowing to continue the fight next year.
Opponents said they had the votes to kill the measure in the House Judiciary Committee and supporters said they had the votes to bring the bill before the full House, regardless of what happened in committee.
The agreement to hold the bill came Friday after supporters promised they would not try to force it to the floor, avoiding a vote on the controversial measure.
“We’re not certain we had the votes to prevail on the floor in the House,” said Delegate Herbert R. McMillan, R-Anne Arundel. “We elected to continue our push next year.”
It came just one day after the same committee narrowly defeated another same-sex marriage bill, which would have prohibited Maryland from recognizing gay marriages performed in other states.
“I am going to keep bringing that bill back. I have brought it three times and I am not going to stop now,” said Delegate Emmett C. Burns Jr., D-Baltimore, after his bill died in an 11-10 vote Thursday night.
“It’s never been that close,” Burns said. “Last year I got nine votes and this year I have 10.”
Thursday’s vote was expected to be followed Friday afternoon by a vote on the constitutional amendment. But in a face-saving measure for both sides, Republicans on the committee requested that the bill be held in committee.
“There were the votes in committee to kill the bill,” said Delegate Luiz Simmons, D-Montgomery. “All Republican lawmakers, when asked, expressed their desire to hold the amendment.”
A leading proponent of the bill, Delegate Don Dwyer Jr., R-Anne Arundel, assured committee members that they “will not see a negative press conference” if the bill was held and that, while it was held, he would not petition to get it out of committee and on to the floor of the House.
Committee members said they will watch the Baltimore Circuit Court, where the American Civil Liberties Union in July filed suit challenging the constitutionality of Maryland’s current law, passed in 1973, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman.
“We understand as the case develops there will be more pressure to pass a bill,” McMillan said.
Until the court rules in that case, a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage is unnecessary, opponents of the ban said.
“Many people who are being jacked up on this issue don’t realize that Maryland has a law that bars gay marriage,” Simmons said. “And it bars the recognition of gay marriages entered into in another state.”
Committee Chairman Joseph F. Vallario Jr., D-Prince George’s, said same-sex marriages are “not a constitutional issue, there is no reason to pass this bill this year.”
“It will come out next year if there is a problem with the court system,” Vallario said.
McMillan believes his side will eventually prevail, passing the bill out of the General Assembly and putting the proposed amendment before voters.
“This game will be decided in 2006,” McMillan said. “When the voters have an opportunity to vote on a constitutional amendment that defines a marriage as between one man and one woman.”
But for now, both sides can walk away from a situation that one lawmaker said was like “a powder keg and everybody holding matches.”
“Bill held until I decide on it,” Vallario said. “Next year we’re going to be confronted with it.”
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