ANNAPOLIS — The House voted Friday night to approve Gov. Martin O'Malley's same-sex marriage bill, sending the legislation to the Senate and clearing what was likely its most formidable legislative hurdle.
The chamber voted 72-67 in favor of the bill, which would make Maryland the eighth state along with the District to pass legislation allowing gay marriage.
The vote drew cheers from many visitors in the House chamber balcony and touched off a celebration among the bill's supporters, many of whom exchanged hugs and shed tears after leaving the chamber.
"It's an amazing day here in Maryland," said Delegate Heather R. Mizeur, a Montgomery Democrat who is openly gay. "Our time has finally come to have love free of fear and to bring a measure of equality to every family in this state."
The bill's supporters reached 72 votes — one more than the 71 needed for passage in the 141-member chamber — by securing support in the past week from two Republicans and three Democrats who were formerly undecided or in opposition to the bill.
The final vote came Friday afternoon, when the House accepted an amendment to the bill proposed by Delegate Tiffany Alston, Prince George's Democrat who withdrew her co-sponsorship of last year's failed bill and voted against this year's bill in a Tuesday committee vote.
Ms. Alston chose to support this year's bill after passage of the amendment, which stipulates that a gay-marriage law would not go into effect until after any potential lawsuits over a referendum effort are resolved.
House members debated the bill for about two hours Friday night, giving impassioned speeches that ranged from defending marriage as between a man and woman to lauding gay marriage as a civil right whose time has come.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, said he respected views from both sides of the issue and applauded lawmakers for remaining civil during the debate.
"Everybody had deep-seated feelings about this," he said after the vote, fighting back tears. "But this is the right thing to do, I'm convinced in my heart."
After the vote, Mr. Busch exchanged greetings with Democratic House leaders and Mr. O'Malley, a Democrat, who arrived mid-celebration and praised the vote as a victory for gay couples and their children.
"We're good people and we all want the same thing for our kids," the governor said.
Opposing lawmakers were much less happy about the outcome, and GOP legislators criticized Democratic leaders for their last-minute vote wrangling, which the state GOP characterized as "dirty tricks and backroom dealing."
The House accepted just two amendments to the bill, both submitted by members who had long opposed the bill but reversed positions this week and ultimately voted in its favor.
"They obviously had to do everything in their power and it took a toll on this chamber," said House Minority Whip Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio, Talbot Republican.
Along with Ms. Alston, Delegate A. Wade Kach, Baltimore County Republican, successfully submitted an amendment Thursday that pushes the bill's effective date from October to January, ensuring that it wouldn't become law until after a potential November referendum.
Unsuccessful amendments included GOP proposals to turn the legislation into a civil-union bill and add protections for parents should the bill lead to homosexuality-related curriculum in schools.
Lawmakers on both sides have acknowledged the bill will likely head to a November referendum. Petitioners would have until June 30 have to collect 55,736 signatures from registered voters.
The Senate version of the bill is currently in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and will likely be voted onto the floor next week, committee Chairman Brian E. Frosh, Montgomery Democrat, said.
The Senate passed last year's bill, which failed in the House, by a 25-21 vote.
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