- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 2, 2006

ANNAPOLIS — Democratic lawmakers in Maryland, determined to avoid a vote on homosexual “marriage” in an election year, closed the House yesterday to quash a constitutional amendment endorsing traditional marriage.

In a move unprecedented in the modern history of the General Assembly, House Speaker Michael E. Busch abruptly recessed the chamber to block a vote on a proposed amendment that would define marriage as a union only of one man and one woman.

The Democratic speaker’s action allowed the House Judiciary Committee to kill the proposal later yesterday, likely preventing it from being voted on by the full House this session.

“It’s game-playing,” said Delegate Anthony J. O’Donnell, Southern Maryland Republican and minority whip. “It is one more example of unchecked power by a [Democratic] majority that has been in control of the House for 180 years.”

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican who supports the amendment, said closing the House was “at least, an abuse of the spirit of the rules.”

As he left the House chamber yesterday morning, Mr. Busch said his decision to recess had nothing to do with the amendment. “We have a lot of work to do today,” the Anne Arundel County Democrat said.

Mr. Busch also said the amendment would be debated today on the House floor.

But tensions escalated when Judiciary Committee Democrats changed the amendment’s bill to include civil unions as an equivalent to “marriage” for same-sex couples.

The change passed 11-10, and three Democrats — Delegates Kevin Kelly of Allegany County, Darryl A. Kelley of Prince George’s County and Theodore Sophocleus of Anne Arundel County — joined Republicans in opposition to it.

The committee then sent the rewritten bill to the full House with a unanimous, unfavorable report. Such a report renders a House bill dead, notwithstanding a complicated parliamentary move to resurrect it.

“[Democrats] went through great political gyrations to get around what should have been a straightforward process,” said Delegate Michael D. Smigiel Sr., Eastern Shore Republican and committee member. “They were more interested in protecting their political party than in letting Marylanders vote on this important issue.”

The marriage debate has dominated the General Assembly since a Baltimore Circuit Court judge ruled last month that the state’s 33-year-old ban on same-sex “marriage” is unconstitutional.

A constitutional amendment would nullify the court ruling, but opponents say it would discriminate against homosexuals by denying them the “civil right of marriage.”

Most Maryland voters — 54 percent — would approve a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union of a man and a woman, according to a recent poll conducted by Rasmussen Reports.

And voters ultimately would decide whether to amend the state’s constitution when they go to the polls in November. The amendment needs the support of three-fifths of both General Assembly chambers to get on the ballot.

Democrats are reluctant, however, to put the amendment on the ballot because it would energize conservatives in an election year in which Mr. Ehrlich is seeking re-election and Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, a Republican, is running for U.S. Senate.

Meanwhile, Virginians will vote on a similar constitutional amendment in November.

Yesterday, Delegate Don Dwyer Jr., Anne Arundel Republican and lead sponsor of the bill, said he was “shocked” after the speaker closed the House session.

Mr. Dwyer and four co-sponsors on the Judiciary Committee had their names stripped from the legislation after the panel rewrote it to include civil unions.

Delegate Robert A. Zirkin, Baltimore County Democrat and a committee member who helped kill the bill, said he was standing up against an attempt to “bash gays.”

“Someone should speak out for minorities,” Mr. Zirkin said.

Mr. Busch gaveled the chamber into recess nine minutes into yesterday’s session, just as Republicans tried to submit a discharge petition to bring the bill to the House floor.

A discharge petition must have signatures of 47 delegates to force a bill out of committee and into the chamber. It is usually used to revive a bill that has stalled in committee, though this petition aimed to stop the committee from killing the bill.

The state Senate also will consider at least two bills for a constitutional amendment.

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