Legislation that would have redefined marriage in Maryland is effectively dead for the rest of this year after the Maryland House of Delegates voted on March 11 to send a same-sex marriage bill back to committee.
After more than two hours of House debate on the "Civil Marriage Protection Act," Judiciary Committee Chair Joseph F. Vallario Jr. proposed that the bill be redirected back to the House Judiciary Committee and the motion passed by a voice vote. According to the Maryland Catholic Conference's executive director Mary Ellen Russell, no further action is likely to happen on the bill or its companion House Bill 175 this legislative session, though it could be revived next year.
"I think the defeat of the legislation at this point is a real testimony to the legislators in the chamber who stood their ground and voted their conscience despite the fact that they were put under enormous pressure by House leaders to vote against both their conscience and the wishes of their constituents," Russell said shortly after the motion passed. She added that the bill being redirected to committee was "a clear indication that they don't have votes on the floor for the issue" to pass SB 116.
Russell attributed the failure of the same-sex marriage bill to "the organizing of the faith community throughout Maryland, of churches from all denominations coming down and witnessing respectfully and compassionately to the values of marriage."
The Maryland Catholic Conference, which represents all three dioceses with territory in Maryland, has been one of the lead lobbying groups in opposing the same-sex marriage bill along with other Christian churches. In addition, the bishops of Washington, Baltimore and Wilmington had released a joint statement on Feb. 28 asking all Maryland Catholics to step up their efforts against redefining marriage.
In a statement released March 11, the Maryland Catholic Conference further encouraged Catholics to stay involved in the political process beyond just the issue of redefining marriage. "It is our hope that all people of commitment to the time-honored understanding of marriage will be inspired to remain involved in the political process on many other issues as well, and to continue to work together to uphold human dignity and the common good," it said.
Before the March 11 House debate began, a dozen or so opponents of same-sex marriage legislation stood near the Maryland statehouse holding signs and waving at cars. Across the street, a group made up largely of Equality Maryland supporters wore red and carried signs supporting SB 116. The Maryland Catholic Conference also passed out bright yellow flyers to legislators as they made their way in to the vote.
Christian homeschool mom Kathleen Crank brought her daughter and son with her to show their support for traditional marriage. "It's an issue of truth," she said. "Throughout human history, marriage has been defined in one way."
St. John the Evangelist, Severna Park, parishioner Lisa Sager-Holm-Hunter was standing in line to get into the House viewing galleries. She said she came to hear the debate because "I recognize the long-range effects that this has on redefining marriage. The purpose of marriage is for procreation, for the raising of children, and for the protection of the family, not just two people loving each other," she said.
During the two-plus hours of House floor debate, two amendments were offered to refer the issue to Maryland voters and to change the bill language from "marriage" to "civil union" and both failed. Both supporters and opponents of the bill spoke about just how sensitive and difficult of an issue same-sex marriage was. The Maryland Catholic Conference's Mary Ellen Russell said that she was pleased "that both sides were able to talk about the issue with respect for everyone's opinion."
Prince George's County Del. Anne Healey said that as a Catholic, pro-life, Democrat, she tries hard to be true to her faith but that on the issue of same-sex marriage, "I must vote that everyone will be treated equally before the law."
Baltimore Del. Emmett C. Burns, Jr. described the issue as "a classic battle between morality and legality and democracy" and that "in the end neither side is perfect." Burns said he opposed the bill and that the efforts to legalize same-sex marriage cannot be equally compared to the civil rights movement. "If same-sex marriage is to be equated with the movement I know, then show me your Birmingham, Ala., ... show Me those who had their homes invaded by the Ku Klux Klan at night...," he said.
On the other hand, fellow Baltimore delegate Kieffer Jackson Mitchell Jr. said that this was "a generational issue" and that he supported same-sex marriage. "There is no way I would compare this to the civil rights movement," he said. "But it is a civil rights issue."
Prince George's County Del. Jay Walker said that while he personally supports same-sex marriage, the issue was bigger than what the members of the House felt and that the bill had larger "social implications." In voting against SB 116, he said he was voting for what the majority of his constituents wanted.
Some delegates spoke about gay family members in voicing their support for the bill, and most of the seven openly gay members of the House of Delegates voiced their strong endorsement of the bill.
Montgomery Del. Heather Mizeur said that growing up she struggled with reconciling her Catholic faith and knowing that she was gay. In appealing to her fellow delegates, she said, "I love each and every one of you without regard" to where they stood on the issue or what they might have said or done on the same-sex marriage issue. "God loves you. Examine your conscience," Mizeur said with passion. "Do the right thing. Cast your vote in the name of love."
The debate came to a somewhat abrupt end when Del. Vallario stood up to speak. After commenting, "I don't think there's ever been an issue in the 37 years I have been down here, that has brought more attention, that has had more input from your citizens and from your churches," he made his motion to redirect the bill back to the House Judiciary Committee. After the all "yay" vote, many of those in the viewing galleries seemed at first to be confused at what the vote meant.
Outside, opponents of SB 116 expressed happiness, with cars honking and some cheering. Same-sex marriage supporters appeared stunned and some were openly emotional.
SB 116 would have redefined marriage from being between one man and one woman to between any two individuals legally free to marry. The Catholic Church and other religious and community groups oppose redefining marriage. After passing the Maryland State Senate by a 25 to 21 margin on Feb. 24, the bill was narrowly approved by the House Judiciary Committee on March 4.
Democratic Governor Martin O'Malley, a Catholic, had supported the bill and earlier said he would sign the bill into law if it passed the Maryland State General Assembly. If the bill had passed the House and been signed by the governor, under Maryland law, a petition could have been submitted to put the bill on the 2012 election ballot for Marylanders to vote on.