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February 25, 2011

Maryland is likely to pass a full marriage law

Annapolis, Md.--A bill to introduce full same-sex marriage was introduced on the state senate floor on February 22, four days after it cleared a key committee.

The bill cleared the Judicial Proceedings Committee with a 7-4 vote on February 17, and may clear the state senate by the end of February. A vote was expected this week, but had not been held by press time.

The Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Act introduces full same-sex marriage while specifically exempting religious institutions from being forced to perform the nuptials, which sponsor Sen. Robert Garagiola repeatedly stressed to undermine religious opposition to the bill.

Senate passage is believed to be likely after State Sen. James Rosapepe sent out an email to constituents expressing his support of the bill, giving it 24 legislators in the chamber who have said they will vote for it--the threshold needed to pass it out of the Senate.

Even a Democratic opponent of the bill has pledged to work to end a threatened filibuster of the bill in the Senate. Thomas V. Mike Miller, the president of the Maryland Senate, has a district that straddles progressive Prince George’s County and conservative Calvert County, joined with other Senate leaders to pledge a vote on the bill.

The Maryland House is the more progressive of the two chambers, and is expected to handily pass the measure if it makes it there. Gov. Martin O’Malley has also indicated he will sign the bill if it passes.

House Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve, the head sponsor of the bill in that chamber, said that he has more than the 71 minimum votes needed to pass it. There is also no mechanism to filibuster in the House.

Even assuming final passage and the governor’s signature, it would then be likely to face a ballot challenge by opponents, who could gather enough petition signatures to put it to a popular vote.

Recent polls have put support for marriage equality in Maryland as much as 17 percent ahead of opposition. A poll by Grove Insight taken in mid-January showed marriage support outstripping opposition among virtually all demographics, including both whites and blacks, and Catholics.

Overall, 49 percent favored marriage equality, 41 percent opposed it and ten percent had no opinion, while Catholic voters ranged from 55 percent in favor to 50 percent of those who attended church regularly. Among those frequent church-goers, only 43 percent opposed marriage.

Among young voters, support was even higher. The poll showed 65 percent of 18-29 year old respondents supporting same-sex marriage.

According to the poll, if the issue goes to referendum, only 35 percent said they would vote to overturn the law, while 52 percent said they would vote to keep it.

The margin of error of the poll is 3.7 percent, which in a number of key demographics is far from enough to indicate any real uncertainty.

Maryland presently has a 2008 domestic partner law that grants some of the rights of marriage, but not all. Last year, Attorney General Douglas Gansler issued an opinion that the state could recognize gay and lesbian marriages from other states.

Full marriage is available in Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Washington, D.C.

New York recognizes out-of-state same-sex marriages, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo supports same-sex marriage, which may be legalized there this year.

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