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After Years of Struggle, Gay Marriage Bill Passes Md. Legislature

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Judy Gaver, left, and June Horner, mothers of openly gay sons who reside in Maryland, speak with Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley in Annapolis, Md., Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012, after the Senate approved a gay marriage bill.

CREDIT: AP Photo / Patrick Semansky

After a slim victory in the House of Delegates and an easy Senate passage, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s desk is the next destination for a bill legalizing gay marriage. The governor has been an outspoken advocate of the bill, making Maryland poised to become the eighth state to legalize gay marriage.

Maybe.

Opponents are already vowing to put the marriage issue to popular referendum in November, and the bill was specifically constructed to take effect in Jan. 2013—after the election and possible referendum. 

As The Daily Beast’s Ben Jacobs pointed out, much of Maryland’s fight for gay marriage was informed by the recent Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling on California’s Prop 8:

[The ruling] means that allowing gay marriage has become the equivalent of opening Pandora’s box. Once a state has allowed just one gay or lesbian couple to marry, legally there is no going back.

[The language] in the final bill means that no gay marriage can be performed in Maryland until all legal and political remedies to prevent it have been exhausted. This language will likely become boilerplate in future statewide efforts to pass same-sex marriage, just as language allowing conscience-based exemptions for religious institutions has become a legislative staple.

Amendments that would push up the date the bill would take effect failed in the Senate, as lawmakers were concerned that the House wouldn’t approve such language.

While it may take a long time to benefit gay couples, Maryland’s gay marriage vote will have more immediate repercussions for Del. Sam Arora. Arora campaigned as a progressive Democrat and pledged to support same-sex marriage, but he changed his mind last year when a similar measure came up for a vote. In protest of his “no” vote on the marriage equality bill again this year, Arora’s legislative director resigned this week.

“It saddens me that you are standing against the tide of history and ending your career over an issue that will no doubt be decided in the affirmative, with or without your vote, over the next couple years,” the former staffer, Joshua Lapidus, wrote in his resignation letter.

Marriage equality advocates have been contacting legislators in Annapolis for years, but lobbying has intensified in the last two legislative sessions as gay marriage bills, fostered by O’Malley’s support, have gained backing.

One delegate who changed his vote from “no” to “yes” cited an extended hearing last week replete with emotional testimony from gay and lesbian couples.

“I just found it so revealing,” Del. Wade Kach told the Baltimore Sun. “The relationships between the same-sex couples that were up there. The love and dedication they had to one another.” Kach later expounded upon his thought process: “I thought to myself, if my constituents were here, they'd have a different perspective on the issue. I'm sure of it.”

They may get a chance to prove it. A Washington Post poll last month found that Maryland’s residents were evenly divided over same-sex marriage, making it difficult to predict the outcome of the likely referendum. Voters will either reject the measure or make Maryland the first state to allow same-sex marriage by popular vote. At this point, it’s too close to call.

Shay O'Reilly is a reporter with Campus Progress. Follow him on Twitter @shaygabriel.

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