Maryland House OKs gay marriage bill; governor likely to sign

The Maryland House of Delegates narrowly approved legalization of gay marriage late Friday, clearing the way for final passage next week and the expected signature of  Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley. That would make Maryland the eighth state with a law on the books legalizing gay marriage, though it would have to survive an expected attempt to block it by referendum.

In debate before the vote, Delegate Anne Kaiser, one of seven openly gay members of the House, said that she wanted, "Marriage. Nothing more. Nothing less."

The final vote tally was 71-67, with the minimum number of votes needed for passage.  Despite having 56 co-sponsors, it had remained unclear whether the bill would pass until the final minutes of debate.

Most Republican delegates opposed the measure, and some black Democrats bowed to pressure from church leaders to try to block the bill. The measure was passed by the Senate last year but died in the House of Delegates without coming to a vote.

The Baltimore Sun reported that the uncertainty preceding the vote had whipped up lobbying efforts by a range of national figures. New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and former Vice President Dick Cheney pushed Maryland delegates to pass the bill.

The proposed law would not require churches and other religious organizations to perform gay marriages.

If enacted, the law would come into force in January 2013. But opponents of the bill have until June 1 to collect 55,736 signatures to trigger a referendum on it. Voters would then get to have their say in November.

The New Jersey legislature passed a gay marriage bill on Thursday, but Republican Gov. Chris Christie vetoed it Friday afternoon.

“I am adhering to what I've said since this bill was first introduced — an issue of this magnitude and importance, which requires a constitutional amendment, should be left to the people of New Jersey to decide,” Christie said in a statement, the Associated Press reported. “I continue to encourage the Legislature to trust the people of New Jersey and seek their input by allowing our citizens to vote on a question that represents a profoundly significant societal change.”

Washington became the most recent state to sign a gay marriage bill into law on Monday. Six other states and the District of Columbia allow marriages between same sex couples.


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