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O'Malley urges Senate panel to OK same-sex marriage this year

Governor kicks off hours of testimony on divisive topic

January 31, 2012|By ANDREW SCHOTZ | andrews@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Martin O’Malley urged a Senate legislative committee on Tuesday to approve a same-sex marriage bill this year, calling for “equal respect for the freedom of all.”

“It’s not right, and it is unjust that the children of gay couples should have lesser protection than the children of other families in our state,” he said, kicking off hours of testimony on the divisive topic.

A same-sex marriage bill narrowly passed the Senate last year, but withered in the House when supporters fell just short of the minimum vote total.

Taking more of a leadership role on the issue this year, O’Malley said the new bill has enhanced protections for religious organizations opposed to same-sex marriage.

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There’s been no indication yet if proponents have secured the handful of extra votes they’ll need to reach a majority in the House.

Del. John P. Donoghue of Washington County, a Democrat who opposed the bill last year, said Tuesday he’s still opposed this year.

The rest of the Washington County delegation also has expressed firm beliefs on the issue. The delegation’s six Republicans are opposed, while the only other Democrat, Sen.Ronald N. Young, supports same-sex marriage.

This year’s bill was heard Tuesday before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, whose members include Sen.Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington.

Dozens of people testified in person or in writing at Tuesday’s hearings.

Many supporters, such as O’Malley, called same-sex marriage a matter of fairness and civil rights.

Drawing upon models in states that have legalized same-sex marriage, “this bill balances equal protection of individual civil marriage rights with the important protection of religious freedom for all,” O’Malley said.

While addressing a National Gay and Lesbian Task Force conference in Baltimore last week, district Judge Katie O’Malley, the governor’s wife, said the bill didn’t pass last year because of “cowards” who wouldn’t support it.

The next day, she released an apology, saying, “I let my feelings get the better of me.”

Some opponents seized on her words on Tuesday, wearing defiant buttons and testifying that it’s fine to be a coward if it means sticking with your convictions.

In written testimony, Mike McManus, the president of Marriage Savers in Potomac, Md., alleged that gay people aren’t actually interested in marriage in states where it has become legal and are far less faithful than heterosexual couples.

Doug Mainwaring of Montgomery County told the committee that he is a divorced father who is gay, but thinks the public “mandate” for same-sex marriage is exaggerated.

“I’d hate to see the eventual unraveling of marriage,” he said.

Sen. Jamin B. “Jamie” Raskin, D-Montgomery, a sponsor of the bill, responded that there is no proof marriage has been weakened in same-sex marriage states.

“How do you undermine an institution by bringing more people into it?,” he asked.

Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, a Democrat who also supports the bill, testified that the argument that marriage must be linked to procreation is “misconstrued” because people on death row and pedophiles are allowed to marry, and infertile couples can remain married.

The House version of the same-sex marriage bill hasn’t been filed yet. It will be heard jointly by two House committees — Health and Government Operations, which Donoghue sits on, and Judiciary, which includes Washington County delegation members Dels. Neil C. Parrott and Michael J. Hough.

If the General Assembly passes the bill and O’Malley signs it into law, opponents are expected to try to petition the bill to a referendum.

Poll: 50 percent of Marylanders back same-sex marriage

A poll by The Washington Post has found that half of Maryland residents now support legalizing same-sex marriage.

The poll released Monday found that 50 percent of residents favor same-sex marriage and 44 percent are opposed.

The newspaper reports that’s the highest recorded level of support in Maryland in a Post poll.

The poll found a divide among Maryland Democrats based on race. For whites, 71 percent were found to support same-sex marriage, while 24 percent oppose it. Among blacks, 41 percent support it, while 53 percent oppose it.

The poll was conducted by telephone Jan. 23-26 among a random sample of 1,064 Maryland adults. The results have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

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