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Maryland Rejects Same-Sex Marriage Bill

After years of debate and tremendous efforts by advocates, Maryland was predicted to become the sixth state to recognize same-sex marriage. While Maryland’s same-sex marriage bill, the Civil Marriage Protection Act, passed through the state’s Senate Judiciary Committee, Senate, and House Judiciary Committee, without the votes to pass the full House of Delegates it was ultimately recommitted back to committee, effectively killing it for the 2011 legislation session. Although the bill will not make it to Governor Martin O’Malley’s desk during the 2011 legislative session, it received nationwide attention and tremendous support from Marylanders across the state. Advocates for marriage equality remain hopeful that the bill still has a successful future, and Governor O’Malley also remains hopeful. The governor has also promised to continue the fight to expand the rights of everyone, including gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) citizens.[1]
Although Maryland has a historic reputation as a liberal state, the debate over same-sex marriage has dragged on for years due to opposition from Catholic and African American churches.[2] The debate began in 2004 when supporters of same-sex marriage filed a lawsuit, Deane & Polyak v. Conaway, in order to allow the unions.[3] They argued that denying same-sex couples the right to marry violated the Maryland Declaration of Rights, which prohibits discrimination based on gender. The case was finally heard in December 2006 by the Maryland Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, but no decision was reached until September 2007.[4] The ruling came down to a 4–3 vote against the plaintiffs, leaving the statutory ban on same-sex marriage in place.[5]
In the years following the ruling, legislators in the Maryland General Assembly unsuccessfully attempted to enact an amendment to the declaration prohibiting same-sex marriage.[6] Instead, the General Assembly passed two bills in 2008 allowing a limited form of domestic partnership.[7] Although this was far from the ultimate goal for supporters of same-sex marriage, it was progress.
After the 2010 elections, the Democrats thought they had picked up enough seats in the Senate to give them the votes needed to pass bills supporting same-sex marriage. This proved to be the case when the Civil Marriage Protection Act easily passed through the previously unsupportive Senate Judiciary Committee with a 7–4 vote. The bill then went to the Senate floor, where it passed by a vote of 25–21 on February 24, 2011, despite initial worry that there would not be the minimum 24 votes needed.
Although the House of Delegates generally tends to be the more liberal of the two bodies, unexpected outrage from voters caused two of the bill’s cosponsors to question their support; as a result, both delegates were absent for an important House Judiciary Committee vote.[8] One of the delegates, Tiffany Alston (D–Prince George’s County), told reporters she received hundreds of phone calls from voters demanding that she vote against the bill, which led her to question her decision despite her campaign promise to support same-sex marriage.[9] Delegate Alston did not end up voting for the bill in the House Judiciary Committee on March 4, but Committee Chairman Joseph F. Vallario Jr. ended up voting in favor of it, despite his previous opposition to the issue, and this sent the bill to the House floor.[10]
Initially, supporters felt they would have enough votes in the House to pass the bill since 98 out of the 141 delegates are Democrats. However, it became clear after the bumpy ride through the House Judiciary Committee that the votes were not there to pass the bill on the House floor. After a few hours of emotional debate, the House Democrats recommitted the bill to committee instead of holding a vote that would fail and put delegates on record as opposing the legislation. Although it did not pass, the Speaker of the House of Delegates, Michael E. Busch, sounded optimistic about the future. “This is a distance run, not a sprint,” Mr. Busch said. “We’ll come back next year and take a strong look at it.”[11]
The Maryland General Assembly will meet next year before the 2012 election, and this gives the bill another chance of passing. Morgan Meneses-Sheets, the executive director of Equality Maryland—a civil rights organization key in the fight for equal rights for the LGBT community—commented, “While we are disappointed the House did not vote to pass marriage equality today, we are confident we will win in the future. With so much at stake today for thousands of Maryland families, we are thankful that our legislative allies have taken such care with this vote. It is best to delay this historic vote until we are absolutely sure we have the votes to win. We look forward to working strategically with our amazing allies in the legislature, and our supporters across the state, to continue to build support for, and win, marriage equality in the Free State.”[12]

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[1] John Wagner, “Reactions to Md.’s Same-sex Marriage Decision,” Washington Post, 12 March 2011, accessed 15 March 2011, <>.
[2] John Wagner, “With Democratic Gains in State Senate, Maryland Poised to Approve Same-sex Marriage,” Washington Post, 9 December 2010, accessed 22 February 2011, <>.

[4] Kelly Brewington, “Judges to Hear Same-sex Lawsuit,” Baltimore Sun, 28 July 2006, accessed 22 February 2011,

[5] Frank Conaway, et al. v. Gitanjali Deane, et al., No. 44 Sept. Term 2006, 22 February 2011, <>.
[6]Kelly Brewington, “Marriage Measure Rejected,” Baltimore Sun, 3 February 2006, accessed 22 February 2011,

[7] Maryland General Assembly, Department of Legislative Services, Fiscal and Policy Note, Revised,accessed 6 April 2011, <>.

[8] Petula Dvorak, “Md. Delegate Torn on Gay Marriage,” 4 March 2011, accessed 5 March 2011, <>.
[9] John Wagner, “Maryland Same-sex Marriage Bill: House Holdout Alston Ready to Vote, Won’t Tip Hand,” Washington Post, 2 March 2011, accessed 4 March 2011, <>.

[10] John Wagner, “Maryland Same-sex Marriage Bill Clears Divided House Panel,” Washington Post, 4 March 2011, accessed 29 March 2011, <>.

[11] Sabrina Tavernise. “Same-sex Marriage Bill Falls Short in Maryland,” New York Times, 11 March 2011, accessed 15 March 2011, <>.

[12] Wagner, “Reactions to Md.’s Same-sex Marriage Decision.”