Tuesday, January 31, 2006

ANNAPOLIS — Hundreds of people crowded a House committee hearing yesterday in support of a proposed constitutional amendment by Republicans to ban homosexual “marriage.”

Lawmakers, however, say the hearing was mostly a formality because Democratic leaders already have enough votes to kill the measure in committee.

Democrats are reluctant to put the constitutional amendment on the November ballot because it would bring out conservative voters 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 the U.S. Senate.

“The speaker is trying to convince conservative Democrats that this will get a fair hearing and a vote,” said Delegate Donald H. Dwyer Jr., Anne Arundel County Republican and lead sponsor of the bill. “The vote it will get will be in committee, and it will be to kill the bill.”

Mr. Dwyer is on the House Judiciary Committee, in which the amendment is being considered.

Delegate Kevin Kelley, Allegany Democrat and a member of the committee, agreed.

“I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts that this will not make it out of this committee on a straight vote,” he said.

The committee vote could come as soon as today.

Supporters of traditional marriage already are rallying — as was evident by the boisterous crowd at the hearing yesterday — after a Baltimore City Circuit Court judge ruled last month that the state’s 33-year-old ban on same-sex “marriage” is unconstitutional.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., both Democrats, say they support traditional marriage but that the General Assembly should not consider a constitutional amendment on the issue until the state’s appellate court can rule on the circuit court decision.

The constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman would nullify the constitutional challenge.

Three-fifths of House and Senate lawmakers must vote in favor of the amendment for it to reach the ballot. A majority of voters would have to vote in favor of the amendment for it to become law.

About 150 people on both sides of the issue signed up to testify yesterday at the hearing, which lasted more than four hours.

Most supporters argued that Maryland residents deserved the opportunity to vote on a constitutional amendment.

Opponents — including representatives of the AFL-CIO and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People — argued that denying “marriage” to homosexuals is tantamount to discrimination.

Several supporters of the constitutional amendment expressed concern that Democratic leaders had, indeed, arranged to kill the bill.

“Marriage ought to be above politics,” said Richard J. Dowling of the Maryland Catholic Conference, the lobbying arm of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, Del. “Here, that is clearly not the case.”

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