Friday, February 3, 2006

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland House Democrats yesterday killed a proposed ban on homosexual “marriage,” likely preventing any such proposal from getting on the November ballot.

“It doesn’t look good for additional action,” said Delegate Anthony J. O’Donnell, Southern Maryland Republican and minority whip. “The Democrats want to keep this from the citizenry in an election year.”

In a 78-61 vote, the Democratic-controlled House of Delegates rejected a bill for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union of a man and a woman.

Nineteen Democrats and 42 Republicans voted for the proposed amendment. One Republican — Delegate Jean Cryor of Montgomery County — sided with 77 Democrats to kill the bill.

State Sen. Brian E. Frosh, Montgomery County Democrat, said the bill’s House defeat sounded the death knell for similar legislation in the Senate.

“When it is dead on the other side, we don’t generally take it up,” said Mr. Frosh, chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, which would handle the legislation.

House Republicans are drafting at least two bills for a constitutional amendment to codify traditional marriage, but Mr. O’Donnell had no expectations they would succeed.

The marriage debate has dominated the General Assembly since a Baltimore Circuit Court judge ruled last month that the state’s 33-year-old ban on same-sex “marriage” is unconstitutional. The judge stayed the ruling until appellate review and approval.

A constitutional amendment would void the judge’s ruling, but opponents say it would discriminate against homosexuals by denying them the “civil right of marriage.”

Democrats are reluctant to put the amendment on the ballot because it would energize conservatives in an election year in which Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, is seeking re-election and Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, also a Republican, is running for U.S. Senate.

Most Marylanders — 54 percent — would approve a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union of a man and a woman, according to a recent poll conducted by Rasmussen Reports.

Yesterday’s vote was taken one day after House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel County Democrat, abruptly recessed the chamber to block a vote on the amendment. His unprecedented move allowed the House Judiciary Committee to kill the legislation with an unfavorable report.

Amendment supporters tried to revive the bill yesterday with a motion to reject the committee report. Democrats prevailed, however, effectively preventing the bill from reaching the floor for a debate or a vote on the constitutional amendment.

“I think it is absolutely criminal,” Delegate Gail H. Bates, Howard County Republican, said during debate on the motion. “The people want an opportunity to voice their opinion on this issue.”

Delegate Joseph F. Vallario Jr., Prince George’s County Democrat and House Judiciary Committee chairman, argued that saving the bill would undermine the legislature’s committee system.

He warned that reviving the constitutional amendment would lead to the resurrection of every bill killed in committee.

“It is the responsibility of this House to back the committee system that we have,” Mr. Vallario said.

Delegate Herb McMillan, Anne Arundel County Republican, said lawmakers had a greater responsibility.

“What’s more important, the institution of marriage or the committee system?” he said. “Who sent you here, the people or the committee system?”

Delegate Robert A. Zirkin, Baltimore County Democrat, said it is the job of lawmakers to defend homosexuals.

“Someone has to stand up and say, ‘Enough of this,’” he said. “It is time to stop demonizing these people for political gain.”

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