- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Maryland legislative panel has approved a same-sex marriage bill, clearing the way for a full vote as early as next week by the state Senate, which is looking increasingly likely to pass.

By a 7-4 vote, the members of the Maryland Senate Judiciary Proceedings Committee passed Senate Bill 116, which would change the state marriage law to allow “two individuals” to marry unless they are ineligible for other reasons. The bill now goes before the Maryland Senate for a vote.

The Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act also states that religious institutions cannot be forced to solemnize any marriage, which apparently was enough to persuade the 24th person in the 47-member chamber to come out in favor of gay marriage.

“I intend to vote for the bill as it was reported out of committee with a strengthened conscience clause to respect the views of religious denominations which do not recognize same sex marriage,” state Sen. James Rosapepe, a Prince George’s County Democrat, told the Associated Press after Thursday’s judiciary-panel vote.

A hearing on the House version of the same-sex marriage bill has been set for next Friday.

If Senate Bill 116 passes that chamber next week, House lawmakers could substitute it for their bill. Gay marriage appears to have more support in the House, and such a substitution could speed it even more quickly to the desk of Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who has said he will sign it.

If enacted, Maryland would become the sixth state, along with the District of Columbia, to allow gay marriage.

Separately, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) released a poll Thursday showing that 54 percent of 600 registered Maryland voters agreed that marriage should only be between one man and one woman. When asked whether the gay marriage issue “should be decided by the state legislature, or is this something that should be decided by the voters,” 78 percent of voters chose the voters.

The Maryland Catholic Conference, Association of Maryland Families and NOM oppose changing state marriage law, and have “vowed to put this proposal before the voters via Maryland’s referendum process if passed by the General Assembly,” NOM said.