Maryland gay marriage debate delayed to Thursday

Debate on contentious legislation to permit gay marriage in Maryland, initially scheduled to begin Thursday morning in the House of Delegates, has been delayed until a special late-afternoon session of the full House.The delay comes amid uncertainty over whether proponents of the “Civil Marriage Protection Act” have the 71 votes needed to advance it to the state Senate.

Comparable legislation passed the Maryland Senate last year but failed in the House when Republicans were joined by a number of African-American Democrats in opposing the bill.

Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley, a gay marriage supporter, has attempted to sway the black lawmakers, many of whom are hesitant to back an issue opposed by much of the state’s black clergy.

The Maryland debate coincides with a vote scheduled for Thursday afternoon in the New Jersey Assembly in Trenton to allow same-sex marriage in that state, highlighting a hot-button social issue gaining prominence in the election year debate.

The New Jersey Senate earlier this week passed the “Marriage Equality and Religious Exemption Act,” and the bill is expected to pass the Democratic-led lower house as well.

The legislation, however, faces a promised veto by Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican often talked about as a possible vice presidential candidate.

The action in the Maryland and New Jersey statehouses follows passage of legislation in Washington state. Gov. Christine Gregoire signed the Washington bill on Monday, but it will not take effect until at least June. Opponents are working to gather signatures for a ballot initiative in November that would block the legislation.

A federal appeals court in California earlier this month overturned that state’s gay marriage ban, enacted through a 2008 ballot initiative. That sets up a possible showdown in the U.S. Supreme Court over the matter.

In addition to Washington, six other states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation allowing same-sex marriages. They are New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Iowa.

By Alice Popovici

ANNAPOLIS, Maryland (Reuters) – (Writing By Dan Burns; Editing by Daniel Trotta)


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