Maryland lawmakers expected to act on marriage equality

Posted  by Julie Bykowicz and Annie Linskey on

"Maryland appears poised this year to expand the rights of same-sex couples, with the state legislature considering proposals on full marriage benefits as well as a compromise plan that would establish civil unions.

"If either measure passes, Maryland would join a small group of states — six plus the District of Columbia — that allow gay couples either to marry or enter civil contracts. But state voters probably would have the final say next year, lawmakers believe, because any new law can be petitioned to referendum.

"Several opinion polls this year, including one this week, show that Marylanders' support for marriage equality is growing.

"''This is about loving couples,' Sean Eldridge, political director for the New York-based advocacy group Freedom to Marry, told lawmakers and supporters Tuesday at an event in Annapolis to promote marriage legislation.

"Called the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act, the proposal would not require religious entities to perform weddings for same-sex couples but would give them the legal ability to do so by repealing Maryland's legal definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman. The couples also would be issued marriage licenses by the state.

"The legislation was introduced in the state Senate last week and is expected to be rolled out in the House of Delegates as soon as Wednesday.

"Marriage equality has never before been considered by the full, 188-member General Assembly; in years past, legislation has stalled in committees.

"But supporters and opponents alike believe this year will be different, pointing to the Democratic pickup of two seats in the Senate last fall and an increase in younger, more liberal members in the House over the years. Supporters say the recent bipartisan repeal of the U.S. military's 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy signals a national shift in views.

"'There's a magical moment where something controversial has picked up enough speed to pass,' said Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., an openly gay Montgomery County Democrat and a longtime supporter of the freedom to marry. 'I believe we are there.'"

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