Maryland Senate delays debate on gay marriage bill

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ANNAPOLIS — The Maryland state Senate postponed debate Wednesday on a same-sex marriage bill, allowing opponents another day to gather proposed amendments to the legislation.

The chamber will begin debate Thursday on the bill, which passed the House last week by a 72-67 vote and was approved Tuesday by a Senate committee.

The Senate approved last year’s failed gay-marriage bill by a 25-21 vote and will likely vote along similar lines this year. It is expected to pass this year’s bill by Friday, sending it to Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley’s desk.

“I don’t anticipate that a single vote will change,” said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George’s Democrat, who opposes the bill. “We want to deal with it expeditiously so that we can move on with the rest of the business of the state.”

Opponents are likely to push for several amendments, including one to allow gay civil unions instead of marriage. They will also challenge a House amendment that moved the measure’s effective date from October to January to eliminate possible conflicts with a likely November referendum.

Opponents have also asked Attorney General Doug Gansler for feedback on the constitutionality of House amendments that would block the law until any lawsuits over a referendum effort are decided and would void the law if any part of it is found unconstitutional.

The Attorney General’s Office sent letters to House members last week defending the changes as legal.

Sen. C. Anthony Muse, Prince George’s Democrat, who voted against the bill last year, said he will also offer an amendment during debate.

“This is such a sensitive issue,” he said. “It’s an issue that I think deserves the kind of time and debate that we’ll need in order to deal with this in an adequate fashion.”

Supporters are expected to fight essentially any proposed amendments to keep the bill from having to return to the House, where it failed last year and narrowly passed this year after much debate and lobbying by Democratic leaders.

Sen. Jamin B. Raskin, who will shepherd the bill on the floor, has said those who want to see the bill pass should resist amendments.

Opponents vow to petition the bill to referendum if it passes the Senate.

They would have until June 30 to collect 55,736 valid signatures of Maryland voters to put it on the November ballot, and can begin collecting names as soon as the bill passes both chambers.

This article is based in part on wire-service reports.

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