Maryland House panels OK gay marriage

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Mr. O'Malley and House leaders are hoping to find new gay-marriage supporters among Democrats who have opposed the bill or remained on the fence, including many black lawmakers from Prince George’s County and Baltimore who say their constituents vehemently oppose gay marriage on religious grounds.

Supporters have argued that same-sex marriage would stabilize gay couples and give spouses access to many property, medical and custodial rights now afforded only to heterosexual couples.

The governor’s bill would protect religious institutions and faith-based groups from having to perform or condone gay marriages, but opponents argue its passage would undermine traditional marriage, fail to protect private residents with religious objections and could eventually seep its way into religion or schools.

Opposing lawmakers proposed several amendments Tuesday that were shot down by majority Democrats, including one by Delegate Tiffany T. Alston, Prince George’s Democrat, that would have postponed the bill’s effective date from Oct. 1 to Jan. 1 to allow for a potential November referendum.

GOP legislators also unsuccessfully proposed changes that would give teachers and parents the right to opt out of potential school curriculums dealing with the gay lifestyle or sex education.

“If a parent wants to opt their child out of curriculum that violates their beliefs, they should be able to do that,” said Delegate Don H. Dwyer Jr., Anne Arundel Republican.

The House panel voted on the governor’s bill four days after it heard testimony from both sides during a 10-hour public hearing.

After the vote, Republicans charged that Democratic leaders are using underhanded tactics to push the bill through the House, including taking the unusual step of assigning it to two standing committees, rather than one.

Democratic leaders said this was done because the bill deals with two distinct areas of law — family law, which is usually handled by Judiciary, and civil rights issues, which are typically handled by Health and Government Operations.

However, opponents have argued that leaders were worried the bill would stall or fail in Judiciary — where it narrowly passed last year — so they brought it before a second, more receptive committee.

“That was highly unusual,” said Delegate Neil C. Parrott, Washington Republican. “I don’t think they have the votes, and I think it will be defeated on the House floor.”

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