Movement on a bill that would have brought marriage equality to Maryland, while also specifically protecting the rights of religious institutions to handle issues of marriage however they see fit, came to a halt this afternoon when House of Delegates Chairman Joseph Vallario (D-Calvert, Prince George's) recommitted the bill back to committee for further discussion.
An opponent of the marriage bill (L) argues with a supporter outside Maryland State House
(Photo by Yusef Najafi)
House Speaker Michael Busch (D-Anne Arundel) said he didn't think the delegates felt comfortable voting on the legislation in this session, adding that the vote would have been very close and that there are about 10 delegates on the fence with regard to marriage equality.
''We have been very cautious – particularly within the Democratic Party, and our caucus – to not judge anyone on their stance on this issue, and that we will let the facts try to stand for themselves,'' Busch said while addressing reporters immediately after Senate Bill 116's third reading.
''A lot of the people that were trying to suggest [amendments and understand] all the information couldn't do it in enough time to feel comfortable with the bill. That's why I think you need another year. As of next year, people will have more information and determine what direction they will take.''
Outside the Maryland State House, opponents of the legislation cheered the news while holding signs that read ''Marriage Equals One Man and One Woman.''
Sen. Nancy Jacobs (R-Cecil, Howard) joined them, saying she was ''very pleased'' with the outcome in the House.
Joining marriage-equality supporters on the other side of the street, Equality Maryland Executive Director Morgan Meneses-Sheets said she was not deterred.
''Another year is more opportunities to be out in communities telling our stories, talking to people about our lives and the fact that we are far more similar than we are different,'' she said.
''My heart goes out to all families like mine, who still go home tonight as second-class citizens. And yet we are not defeated. We will live to fight another day, and in the end we will triumph. … We got through the state Senate, we got through the House Judiciary Committee, and we absolutely won the floor debate. … People were moved. This is about fairness and justice. And, in the end, fairness and justice will win out.''
During the three-hour debate, which began around 11:30 a.m., both opponents and supporters of the bill made heavy use of religion.
Del. Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery), one of the eight openly LGBT people serving in the House, talked about her identities as both a lesbian and a devout Catholic.
"I prayed and I prayed and I prayed that it would go away, especially the gay part," she said of her youthful struggle with her orientation. ''By the time I was in college … I realized that never once with my conversations with God did God tell me it was wrong."
"You can't stop us from loving each other," Mizeur said, adding, "what we're asking for is the ability to protect our relationships and that commitment forever.''
Del. Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City), who is gay, emphasized how the legislation would protect religious institutions opposed to marriage equality, explaining that he is a Presbyterian and would still not be allowed to get married at his own Presbyterian church if the bill became law.
"I've heard that somehow I am less than natural, that I am less than human," he said. ''I am here to claim today to this House, that I am not less than. I am a child of God … and perfect in my imperfections."
The religion-themed arguments of the marriage-equality opponents took a decidedly different tone.
Del. Kumar Barve (L) and House Speaker Michael Busch
(Photo by Yusef Najafi)
Del. Cheryl Glenn (D-Baltimore City) presented an amendment Friday to change the language of the bill to replace ''marriage'' with ''civil unions.'' Glenn said she had promised activists supporting same-sex marriage she would be lead sponsor of legislation providing protections, but only if those protections are legally termed ''civil unions,'' not marriages.
"It's all about the word of God," she said. "It truly is."
Del. Emmett Burns (D-Baltimore County) said he found it offensive that the gay-rights movement is often compared to the civil-rights movement, adding that he's been threatened and called ''the n-word" for his opposition to the marriage bill.
"The civil-rights movement as I knew it … had nothing to do with same-sex marriage," he said. "And those who decide to ride on our coattails are historically incorrect. The civil-rights movement was about putting teeth into the Declaration of Independence."
Busch called the debate ''the most passionate'' that he's witnessed during his time as House speaker, arguing that postponing a marriage-equality vote to 2012 would benefit both sides.
''I think that it was in the best interest of everyone that before there was a full and final vote and statement from the House, that they'd be able to fashion their bill on their own,'' he said, suggesting the House might draft its own bill, which it has previously, rather than pass a Senate version. ''This is a distant run, not a sprint. [There is] no necessity to pass the bill in the first year.''