Maryland House passes gay marriage bill

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, center, greets supporters and members of the House of Delegates after the House passed a gay marriage bill in Annapolis, Md., Friday, Feb. 17, 2012. AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

ANNAPOLIS, Md. - Maryland appears ready to become one of a handful of states in the U.S. to legalize gay marriage after the bill to allow it passed a long-standing hurdle in the Maryland House of Delegates on Friday.

After courting the votes of a couple delegates initially opposed to the measure, House members voted 72-67 to pass the bill. Next up is the Senate, which handily passed a similar bill last year, and Gov. Martin O'Malley has said he would sign it. Approval would make Maryland the eight state plus the District of Columbia to legalize the marriages.

"Today, we took a giant step toward marriage equality becoming law -- and we are in this position due to the unwavering leadership and resolve of Governor O'Malley, Speaker (Michael) Busch and our legislative allies," Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement released Friday.

An amendment from Delegate Tiffany Alston, a Prince George's Democrat who previously opposed to the bill, was accepted by the members, a move opponents suggested secured her vote. It would keep the law from going into effect until any litigation related to a potential voters' referendum on the measure is processed.

The body also added an amendment Thursday evening, altering the effective date from October to January 2013.

Delegate Wade Kach, a Republican from Baltimore County, said earlier in that day that his support was contingent upon that amendment.

Throughout the week, several key lawmakers, including Kach and Republican Delegate Robert Costa, made pronouncements that after personal consideration they would support the legislation.

Opponents say the bill does not adequately protect religious freedoms and would force educators to teach about gay marriage in public schools.

Delegates rejected amendments to create civil unions, allow parents to opt out of education programs that address same-sex relationships, limit marriage for gay couples over 18 and to put the measure directly on the ballot.

Opponents argued that Democrats rushed the measure through without proper consideration of amendments once they knew there would be enough votes.

"We should not use brute force strength on such a weighty issue," said minority leader Anthony O'Donnell, R-Calvert.

Earlier in the week, opposition lawmakers criticized proponents for dragging their feet on the measure in order to have enough time to secure votes.

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