It was close, but the Maryland House of Delegates voted to approve a same-sex marriage bill Friday night that was a priority for Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley.
Legislators passed the Civil Marriage Protection Act with 72 votes in favor and 67 delegates voting against the legislation. The bill needed a minimum of 71 votes to pass. The total was originally reported as 71 votes in favor because a technical glitch locked out Del. John Bohanon’s vote in favor of the bill.
Just two Republicans—Dels. Wade Kach and Robert Costa of Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties, respectively—voted in favor of the bill.
A similar bill died last year in the House when proponents failed to secure the needed votes and were forced to return the bill to committee.
The bill will now be taken up for debate in the state Senate, which held a hearing prior to the House. The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee has been holding the bill to wait to see if the House would pass it.
As the vote tally on the roll call board showed the bill had passed a cheer erupted from supporters on the floor.
Gitanjali Deane and Lisa Polyak, of Baltimore's Homeland neighborhood, stood outside the House of Delegates chambers celebrating after the House passed the bill. The couple were the lead plaintiffs in an unsuccessful lawsuit challenging the state’s current law that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.
“I’m still having trouble wrapping my head around it because I feel like finally we’re recognized as a family,” Deane said while standing next to her daughter Devi.
Among the supporters was Del. Anne Kaiser, a Montgomery County Democrat. She said it was one of the happiest days of her life.
“I can hardly believe it now. It’s just really exciting for me, for my partner and my family for the other members of the legislature and the people of Maryland,” said Kaiser, who is one of seven openly gay or lesbian members of the House.
Kaiser called the process of trying to corral enough votes to pass the legislation “exciting” and said she expects the Senate to pass the bill next week.
“One of the things I’ve been saying the last few weeks is ‘History, do you feel inevitability knocking on the door?’” she said.
Del. Mary Washington, a Democrat who represents North Baltimore, was also elated when the tally was announced.
“I’m so happy for the men and women in this state who are now going to be able to get married some day soon. I’m just very grateful to all the delegates who looked deep into their hearts and looked to their responsibilities as legislators and came out on the side of equality,” said Washington, who is also a lesbian.
Washington said amendments to the bill, which include provisions that it can not go into effect if there is pending litigation against it or that it can be struck down if a judge decides any part of it is illegal, gives her some reason for concern. But she added that she just wanted to enjoy the night’s victory.
“For tonight we have established that it is the intent of this legislature to have marriage equality in the state of Maryland and that can not be changed,” Washington said.
O'Malley has made passage of the bill one of his top priorities this session. Earlier on Friday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, vetoed his state's bill to legalize gay marriage. Both O'Malley and Christie are often mentioned as future presidential candidates.
O'Malley praised Maryland legislators for their work.
“Today, the House of Delegates voted for human dignity," O'Malley said in a statement released Friday after the vote. "Speaker (Michael) Busch and his fellow Delegates deserve a lot of credit for their hard work. At its heart, their vote was a vote for Maryland’s children."
The amendments were added to the bill Friday afternoon following a meeting between House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Del. Tiffany Alston, a Prince George’s Democrat, during the debate on the bill.
An amendment was added to the legislation Thursday that moves the effective date of the legislation from October 2012 to January 2013 to secure the vote of Del. Wade Kach, a Baltimore County Republican. Kach said in an interview Friday afternoon he wanted the amendment attached so opponents would have enough time to try and put the issue to a referendum.
Kach was one of two Baltimore County delegates who were once thought to oppose the bill but then came out to support it in the last hours before a final vote.
Kach, in an interview with Patch less than an hour before the final vote, said he changed his mind after sitting next to witnesses at a hearing last week.
"I saw the relationships between the same-sex couples—they're not second class citizens," said Kach, a Republican who represents northern Baltimore County.
Del. John Olszewski Jr., a Dundalk Democrat, announced yesterday that he would support the bill. He had opposed previous versions of the bill saying that it failed to provide adequate protection to religious institutions.
During debate Friday night, Olszewski said he now believes the "has strongest language to protect religious institutions."
Kach came under fire by some in his own party after the vote who held him responsible for the passage of the bill.
"I'm extremely disappointed in Wade Kach," said Del. Kathy Szeliga, Baltimore County Republican. "It's one vote. I know his district. That district is not going to be happy with his vote."
Szeliga said the focus is now on moving the bill, which is expected to be passed in the Senate, to a referendum on the 2012 ballot in November along side the bill that grants tuition to some illegal immigrants.
"I'll be strongly working on the petition drive as soon as it get's out of the Senate," said Szeliga.
Here's how Carroll County lawmakers voted:
- Donald Elliott, R, District 4, Against
- Sue Krebs, R, District 9, Against
- Justin Ready, R, District 5, Against
- Nancy Stocksdale, R, District 5, Against