Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Down to the Wire on Marriage Equality

A joint committee in the House of Delegates voted 25-18 Tuesday night to send the marriage equality bill to the floor. On Wednesday the bill was held over until Thursday. Proponents say they are a few votes short of the 71 needed to pass, but the speed with which the measure is moving toward a vote suggests the votes are either there or nearly there.

Recent efforts to court Republican support bore fruit when Anne Arundel Republican Bob Costa voted in favor of the bill. Republican Del. Pat Hogan (Frederick) had indicated that he was undecided, but has since declared his intention to vote "No." Democratic Del. Sam Arora continues to confuse - last year he supported marriage equality, then changed his mind and opposed it in committee, and then changed his mind and supported it on the floor. Arora abstained during the committee vote on Tuesday.

Arora and other members of the committee who subsequently voted against the bill, voiced support throughout the hearing for amendments that would make civil unions legal in Maryland rather than legalizing same sex marriage. All efforts to amend the bill were defeated.

The delay in floor consideration will give marriage equality opponents ample time to prepare amendments to the bill. The votes on the amendments will be an early indicator of whether the 71 votes needed for passage have been secured.

Several delegates have argued that the issue of same sex marriage should be decided by voters at referendum. Of course, we elect members of the Assembly based on the assumption that they are capable of making decisions on our behalf. Never mind that nearly all bills passed by the legislature and signed by the governor are subject to petition and referendum by the voters. Voters will have multiple chances to be heard on this issue - in the petition phase, in any resultant referendum, and in the 2014 election. In the meantime, members of the Assembly were elected for the express purpose of considering legislation and casting votes. Those who lack the courage or will to cast "the tough votes" need to do the folks of Maryland a favor and let someone else run for their seat in 2014.

On a final note, if the General Assembly does pass this bill then Martin O'Malley deserves a tremendous amount of credit for putting the full weight of his office behind the measure. I am a frequent critic of O'Malley - last year over his silence on marriage equality, in the summer and fall for his disgracefully gerrymandered congressional districts, and this session for a very regressive package of tax increases, and I'm especially bothered by O'Malley's happy descent into the polarizing Us v Them rhetoric of the extreme partisans who control the two national parties. But in this instance and on this issue O'Malley has literally staked his reputation on the legalization of same sex marriage in the Free State. He should be commended and, if the measure becomes law, credited.

The severe divisions that this measure will reveal within the state's Democratic coalition will be an issue for another day.