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Delegates torn between important vote, attending funeral

February 01, 2006|by TAMELA BAKER

tammyb@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS - In politics, timing is everything.

But for most of the day Tuesday, time appeared to be working against local delegates hoping to attend funeral services for a correctional officer killed last week in Hagerstown.

The wrench in their plans? The proposed Marriage Protection Act.

Washington County delegates who wanted to go home so they could attend Officer Jeffery Wroten's funeral this morning, were caught in a bind. If the bill were to go before the House this morning, they needed to be in Annapolis.

"First and foremost, we have got to represent our constituents," said Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington and chairman of the county delegation. "All of us desperately want to go to this funeral to show our support for the family. We all, to a person, felt very strongly," he said.

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But the marriage amendment "is so extremely volatile; the last thing we would want to see is our absence be responsible for a change in the vote."

The bill proposes an amendment to the Maryland constitution that would define marriage as between one man and one woman. Proponents argue that such an amendment is necessary because of a recent court decision declaring Maryland's marriage laws - which forbid same-sex marriage - unconstitutional.

Witnesses on both sides lined up Tuesday to testify before the House Judiciary Committee. Committee Chairman Joseph Vallario had not decided whether to take a committee vote on the bill when the hearing concluded. Committees usually vote on bills first, and if approved there, the bills go to the full House for a vote.

"We're asking the committee not to vote on the bill tonight," said House Minority Leader George Edwards, arguing that the weight of the issue merited a chance for all the delegates to vote on it. "It should not be determined by one committee."

Minority Whip Anthony O'Donnell added that the custom is a "24-hour rule," which held that committees would not vote on a particular bill for 24 hours after the hearing.

That timing mattered to the Republicans because they needed time for their option - gathering the signatures of 47 delegates on a petition to force a vote by the full House.

By 6 p.m., they were still counting signatures - and testimony in the Judiciary Committee was still going strong.

The county delegation canceled a planned meeting this morning with the Washington County Commissioners. That meeting has been rescheduled for 8:30 a.m. Thursday.

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