The Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee voted largely along party lines Tuesday, Feb. 21, in favor of HB 438 (pdf), a bill to legalize marriage equality. The bill, supported by Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), is now expected to go before the full Senate for a vote on Wednesday, Feb. 22.
Seven of the eight Democrats on the committee, including Chairman Brian Frosh (D-Montgomery Co.) and Vice-Chair Lisa Gladden (D-Baltimore City), voted to approve the bill. All three Republicans on the committee and Sen. Norman Stone, Jr. (D-Baltimore Co.) voted against the measure. No amendments to the bill were adopted by the committee.
The committee's actions come just four days after the House of Delegates narrowly passed the bill on a 72-67 vote after adopting two amendments, including one by Del. Tiffany Alston (D-Prince George's Co.) that prevents any same-sex marriages from occurring before litigation surrounding the referendum process has concluded. The other amendment, by Del. A. Wade Kach (R-Carroll, Baltimore Cos.) makes the bill take effect on Jan. 1, 2013, rather than on Oct. 1, 2012, as the legislation originally proposed.
Out gay Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-Montgomery Co.), a strong supporter of marriage equality, tweeted that the bill would come to the Senate floor for a full vote Wednesday, where passage is expected. Opponents have vowed to seek a referendum placing the measure on the ballot during the 2012 presidential election in hopes of repealing it.
Last year, a marriage equality bill passed the full Senate, 25-21, but was sent back to committee after proponents realized they did not have enough votes to pass it in the House. This year, bolstered by support from and intense lobbying of legislators by O'Malley, who has made its passage part of his 2012 legislative agenda, the bill was able to garner the votes necessary for passage. No senators who voted in favor of last year's bill have indicated they are considering switching their votes.
Following passage by the committee, the pro-equality coalition, Marylanders for Marriage Equality, released a statement praising the vote.
"We're grateful to the members of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee -- particularly chairman Brian Frosh -- who today approved the Civil Marriage Protection Act," said Ezekiel Jackson, political organizer of 1199 SEIU, one of the member groups of the Marylanders for Marriage Equality coalition. "Members who support the bill understand that this is about making all Maryland families stronger -- that it's about protecting them equally under the law while preserving cherished religious freedoms."
Equality Maryland, another organization in the coalition, noted in a tweet that Stone, who voted against last year's bill in committee and on the floor, was one of seven senators, all Democrats, who voted against repealing a Maryland state law that had banned interracial marriage in 1967.
[UPDATE: The specifics of House amendments were clarified.]