- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 20, 2011

Maryland lawmakers reintroduced a gay-marriage bill on Thursday, making it the second state after Rhode Island to start the process this year of changing its marriage laws.

But while Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee boldly supported gay marriage in his inauguration speech, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley steered clear of the subject in his speech this week, choosing to focus on promises of a brighter future with more jobs, economic reform, better education and “unity.”

Still, Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, is on record saying he would sign a gay-marriage bill.

“I have long believed the way to craft a compromise is civil unions,” he told WTOP radio while campaigning last summer. “But if [the legislature] were to reach a compromise in another way, I would sign a bill like that.”

Maryland’s gay-marriage bill, HB 55, was introduced by Delegate Luis Simmons and 16 co-sponsors. The Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act uses the same language as previous bills - establishing that a marriage between “two individuals” who are otherwise permitted to marry would be “valid in the state.”

The bill also states that Maryland clergy need not perform marriages that violate their religion’s tenets.

A companion bill is expected to be introduced in the Maryland Senate, according to state Sen. Rich Magdaleno, an openly gay representative from Montgomery County. “I have never been so optimistic about getting this [gay marriage] done,” he told the Washington Blade earlier this month.

Equality Maryland, a gay rights advocacy group, is already ramping up its forces, calling its members and allies to tell their stories in visits to lawmakers on Jan. 31 and Feb. 14.

In Rhode Island, where the legislature is dominated by Democrats, the mood is even more gay-friendly. Earlier this month, state Rep. Arthur Handy introduced a gay-marriage bill with some 27 co-sponsors, including Rhode Island House Speaker Gordon Fox, who is openly gay.

A companion bill was also introduced in the Rhode Island Senate. Recently, Rhode Island Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, who has said she does not support gay marriage, said she will not block a vote on the measure.

Gay-marriage supporters were heartened when Mr. Chafee, an independent, said Jan. 4 he would be pleased to sign gay marriage into law.

“When marriage equality is the law in Rhode Island, we honor our forefathers who risked their lives and fortune in the pursuit of human equality,” Mr. Chafee said in his inaugural address. “Rhode Island today must be as welcoming to all as [founder] Roger Williams intended it to be.”

However, Rhode Islanders who oppose gay marriage have started airing an advertisement that says, “Let the people vote.”

Mr. Chafee, who won his election with a 36 percent plurality, is an “accidental governor” who doesn’t have a mandate to change state marriage law, said Christopher Plante, spokesman for the Rhode Island chapter of the National Organization for Marriage.

“If legislators in Rhode Island wish to redefine marriage, they should put this issue on the ballot, where the people themselves can decide if they wish to abandon one of the most fundamental institutions of society,” Mr. Plante said.

Elsewhere:

• New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, asked lawmakers in his State of the State speech to send him a gay-marriage bill, and New York state Sen. Thomas Duane, a Democrat, is reportedly preparing to introduce a gay-marriage bill, the New York Daily News reported this week. However, Republicans won a small majority in the New York state Senate in November, and they, along with a group of Democrats, have historically opposed a change in marriage laws.

• Lawmakers in Indiana have introduced a state marriage amendment, which defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Joint Resolution 13, now before the Judiciary Committee, would have to be passed by two consecutive legislatures before going to a public vote.

• Wyoming lawmakers are debating a bill to clarify that Wyoming courts cannot acknowledge out-of-state gay marriages. The bill stems from a lawsuit in which a lesbian couple who married in Canada are seeking a divorce in Wyoming. A judge said he didn’t have jurisdiction to grant such a divorce.

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