Liberals won a long-fought victory in Maryland, passing a bill Thursday that would make the state the eighth in the nation to approve gay marriage, while across the Potomac River, Republicans backpedaled for the second time in a week on major abortion-related legislation.
In Richmond, six Republicans joined 18 Democrats in killing a “personhood” measure in the Virginia Senate that would define life as beginning at conception. In Annapolis, the Democrat-controlled Senate on a 25-22 vote sent a gay-marriage bill to Gov. Martin O'Malley, who spearheaded the effort.
”I think the legislative process has worked well in this case, and I think it’s been a very open process,” Mr. O'Malley said. “I look forward to signing the bill.”
The issues are emblematic of passionate debates across the country, where statehouse lawmakers have been embroiled in social issues this year.
A push for gay marriage was felled in New Jersey and succeeded in Washington, for example. The Oklahoma state Senate last week approved a personhood measure, though similar efforts were defeated in ballot initiatives in recent years in Mississippi and Colorado.
The debates are taking place amid national uproar over the Obama administration’s decision to mandate that religious institutions cover forms of contraception, including birth control, even if it ran counter to their religious beliefs. Insurers will now be required to cover the items. President Obama himself proposed to expand conscience exemptions, but the Catholic Church and other religious bodies said he did not go far enough.
But Virginia’s personhood bill and another measure that would require women who get an abortion to first undergo an invasive ultrasound procedure had attracted particularly heightened attention on cable news and late-night comedy shows, culminating with a five-minute-plus skewering by Jon Stewart on Tuesday night’s episode of “The Daily Show.”
Conservative priorities fail, falter
Just hours after a Virginia state Senate committee voted Thursday to advance the personhood bill, the full Senate by a 24-14 count re-referred it to committee — a move that essentially dooms the measure until at least 2013.
The action came a day after Gov. Bob McDonnell backed off his full support of the ultrasound bill. The bill had been criticized because most abortions are performed early in pregnancy, meaning many women would have been subjected to an invasive, transvaginal procedure.
Mr. McDonnell, a Republican, proposed amendments to the bill that would instead mandate an ultrasound procedure — either the external “jelly-on-the-belly” test or the invasive exam.
The decision left Democrats angry that a medically unnecessary procedure would still be mandated and conservatives irked that the measure passed in the House and headed to the Senate floor was watered down by the McDonnell amendments.
Though Mr. McDonnell is solidly pro-life, both as attorney general and as governor he has styled himself as a “results-oriented conservative” focused on economic development and job creation.
“This issue threatened to overshadow the political identity he had successfully cultivated, and in some ways really threatened to take it off the table,” said Bob Holsworth, a longtime Virginia political analyst. “I’m not sure this solution satisfies either side. He eventually needs some support from the pro-life folks, suggesting this was a reasonable accommodation.”
Mr. McDonnell would have been put in a similar position if the personhood measure came to his desk, Mr. Holsworth said, but the Senate’s move spared him of acting on that bill, on which he never took an official position.