- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 14, 2012

ANNAPOLIS — Two House panels on Tuesday passed Gov. Martin O'Malley’s same-sex marriage bill, sending it to the chamber floor with help from the state’s first Republican delegate to speak in favor of the legislation.

The House Judiciary Committee and Health and Government Operations Committee voted 25-18 in favor of the bill, which would make Maryland the eighth state to legalize gay marriage.

Mr. O'Malley, a Democrat, has led the fight for gay marriage in the 2012 General Assembly after he was largely quiet on the issue last year, when a bill passed the Senate, but died on the House floor.

The two House committees voted jointly Tuesday, and 24 of 30 Democrats supported the legislation. Only one of 15 Republican did: Delegate Robert A. Costa, Anne Arundel Republican.

Delegate Sam Arora, Montgomery Democrat, abstained, and Delegate Patrick L. McDonough, Baltimore County Republican, was absent.

This year’s bill will likely receive its toughest test in the House, where it has drawn resistance from many socially conservative Democrats. Floor debate could begin as soon as Wednesday.

“It’s a close vote and an emotional issue,” said House Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve, Montgomery Democrat. “This is why we run for election and make the hard calls like this. It’s going to be close, but I’m confident we’ll pass it.”

Supporters of the governor’s bill are hoping to follow momentum created by recent victories in Washington and California.

Washington state Gov. Chris Gregoire, a Democrat, signed her state’s gay-marriage law on Monday, just one week after a federal court struck down a California law banning gay weddings. However, both face further challenges from opponents before they can take effect.

Maryland lawmakers say success or failure in their state will almost certainly hinge on whether House Democratic leaders can gather enough supporters to pass the bill in the 141-member chamber.

Supporters estimated they were about three votes short last year when leaders chose to send the bill back to a House committee rather than see it defeated outright on the floor. No new Democratic supporters have come forward in the 11 months since the bill died.

“We need a couple more votes, and people always make their decisions against deadlines,” Mr. O'Malley said at a pro-gay-marriage rally Monday night. “The bill has been heard in the House and is likely to move.”

The state Senate could have a relatively easy time with its version of this year’s bill, which is now being considered in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

The 47-member Senate passed last year’s bill by a 25-21 vote and is expected to vote along similar lines this year.

The committee’s chairman, Sen. Brian E. Frosh, Montgomery Democrat, said his panel will probably vote on the bill by the end of the week, sending it to the Senate floor.

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