- The Washington Times - Friday, January 4, 2008

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — Same-sex “marriage” has been declared a question for the legislature, not the courts — but top Maryland lawmakers doubt that any bills on the matter will pass in the upcoming legislative session.

The session that begins Wednesday will be the first regular session since the state’s highest court ruled in a Baltimore case that the Maryland Constitution’s equal rights amendment does not make a ban against same-sex unions unconstitutional.

In other words, the judges punted the question back to lawmakers.

“Our opinion should by no means be read to imply that the General Assembly may not grant and recognize for homosexual persons civil unions or the right to marry a person of the same sex,” Judge Glenn T. Harrell Jr. wrote in the September decision.

But top lawmakers say it’s unlikely that the question of same-sex unions will advance this session.

“Both sides are so passionate about it, nothing will move,” predicted Senate Minority Leader David R. Brinkley, Frederick Republican.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Southern Maryland Democrat, said in interviews that they doubted that same-sex “marriage” or civil union bills will make it to a vote this year.

“I don’t know that there will be any movement to change that,” said Mr. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat.

But activists on both sides say it won’t be easy for lawmakers to ignore the question. It’s likely that several bills will be proposed, including measures that would grant same-sex “marriages,” create civil unions or craft a constitutional amendment banning same-sex unions.

A House-Senate committee is scheduled to take up a definition of “domestic partnership” next week as it approves a health insurance regulation. A law that took effect Tuesday requires insurance companies to offer benefits to domestic partners if companies request it, but the law does not define domestic partners. That definition will need to be approved by lawmakers.

Equality Maryland, a homosexual rights group, plans to back a bill that would take gender requirements out of state marriage law. The bill would make it clear that clergy members are under no obligation to perform same-sex “wedding” ceremonies.

“Opponents have said we’re trying to make clergy do what they don’t want to do. So we addressed that. This isn’t anything other than equality from the state,” said Carrie Evans, Equality Maryland’s policy director.

Supporters of the marriage bill say they will appeal to their colleagues to take up their bill in the interest of fairness.

“From pensions to immigration to visitation in the hospital, there are just a slew of rights related to marriage,” said Delegate Benjamin S. Barnes, Anne Arundel and Prince George’s Democrat, who plans to sponsor a marriage equality bill.

Despite signals from legislative leaders that homosexual “marriage” bills won’t advance, Mr. Barnes predicted supporters will push hard to get something done about same-sex “marriage” this term.

“This bill just seeks to end discrimination while protecting religious institutions,” he said.

On the other side, same-sex “marriage” opponents plan to push equally hard.

Sen. Andrew P. Harris, Harford Republican, plans to propose a constitutional amendment banning same-sex “marriages.” But he said he didn’t have high hopes that any such legislation would succeed.

“I doubt we’ll see it on the floor if the Senate president doesn’t want to move it on the floor,” Mr. Harris said.

Delegate Victor Ramirez, Prince George’s Democrat who supports legalizing same-sex unions, said it’s too soon to know whether a same-sex “marriage” bill of any sort will succeed this term.

“Quite honestly, we’re gearing up to see where the consensus is,” Mr. Ramirez said. “It’s still to be determined.”

Associated Press writer Brian Witte contributed to this report.



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