- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 16, 2012

ANNAPOLIS — The House of Delegates is poised to decide as early as Friday the future of same-sex marriage in Maryland, with some of the final, crucial votes to support the measure coming from once-undecided lawmakers who now say they want the issue put in the hands of voters.

The Senate appears all but certain to vote in favor of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s signature legislation, but members must wait as Democratic House leaders try to wrangle enough votes in their chamber.

Though the call for referendum has come largely from Republican lawmakers, the idea appears to be providing enough political cover for some lawmakers to support the bill despite objections from many constituents.

“I’ve never had an issue where we’ve heard from so many people,” said Delegate Pamela G. Beidle, Anne Arundel Democrat who announced her support Thursday. “I know this is a representative government, but some issues are so important that everybody should have a voice.”

Supporters and opponents were still fighting for votes Thursday night as the House approved an amendment moving the bill’s effective date from October to January and postponed debate on other amendments until Friday.

The 141-member chamber still appears about evenly divided on the issue.

Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, said he met earlier this week with lawmakers from both parties as he tries to make Maryland the eighth state along with the District to pass legislation allowing gay marriage.

His supporters gained three votes Thursday, when Ms. Beidle and Delegates John A. Olszewski Jr. and A. Wade Kach announced they will support the legislation, which would allow gay couples to enter state-recognized marriages while exempting religious institutions and faith-based groups from having to perform, accommodate or condone the unions.

Ms. Beidle and Mr. Olszewski, Baltimore County Democrat, represent moderate Democratic districts. Mr. Kach, Baltimore County Republican, was the second GOP delegate to throw his support behind the bill, joining Delegate Robert A. Costa, Anne Arundel Republican.

“I think there’s a tremendous amount of momentum,” said Delegate Ben Barnes, Prince George’s Democrat. “The more educated people become on the issue, the more likely they have been to support it.”

Nonetheless, opponents appear optimistic as they also work to shore up their ranks.

House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell said he expects at least one Democrat who formerly supported the legislation to vote against it.

Delegate Don H. Dwyer Jr., Anne Arundel Republican and one of the bill’s most outspoken opponents said, “It’s not over until the votes are taken on the floor tomorrow. So we’ll wait and see what happens.”

The Senate last year passed the unsuccessful gay-marriage bill 25-21 vote and figures to vote along similar lines this year.

Even if the bill succeeds in both chambers, opponents would almost certainly mount a petition effort to force a November referendum on the issue.

According to state law, petitioners would have to collect 55,736 valid voter signatures by June 30 to force a statewide vote.

Gay marriage has been rejected in all 31 states where it has gone to referendum, and recent polls have shown Marylanders are almost equally divided on the issue.

Many supporters have been reluctant to see it go to referendum, arguing it is a civil rights issue that should be decided by legislation rather than public opinion.

They have compared gay marriage to past laws outlawing racial discrimination, which they contend could have been unfairly blocked had they been put to a public vote.

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