Maryland senators are unlikely to approve any amendments to a bill legalizing gay marriage, worried that if it heads back to the House of Delegates, it could be in trouble because the vote to pass it there was so close.
Members of the state Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee rejected two changes to the bill Tuesday, and proponents say they plan to do the same when the measure reaches the chamber floor later this week.
“A little bit of Wite-Out is the guillotine here. Don’t touch the bill if you support it,” Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery, told committee members before they shot down changes that would have legalized civil unions and overruled an amendment made in the House last week.
The committee’s 7-4 vote — identical to one last year on a similar bill — moves the legislation to the full Senate, which is expected to take a final vote soon.
If it passes, both supporters and oponents expect the bill to be decided in a referendum in November.
Sen.Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, cast one of the no votes in committee on Tuesday.
Sen. Joseph Getty, R-Carroll, attempted to overturn an amendment added by the House that would have pushed back the bill’s effective date from October 2012 to January 2013 — a move Del. Wade Kach, R-Baltimore County, said was brokered to earn his yes vote last week.
Getty called the House amendment meaningless, but said he knew the committee would reject his proposal.
“Everybody understands that’s how the game’s played,” Getty said. “If a bill gets out by a very slim vote, all amendments are resisted so the bill doesn’t go back to the originating chamber.”
Proponents are hesitant to send the legislation back to the House for further review because the 72-67 vote only collected the support of one more delegate than required to pass it.
Sen. Jim Brochin, D-Baltimore County, who plans to support the gay marriage bill and voted for it in the committee, introduced a change that would have legalized civil unions for gay couples — an idea that has been repeatedly rejected in both chambers.
Shank voted against the civil unions amendment.
The same amendment was offered a week ago in a joint hearing of two House committees. There, Del. Michael J. Hough, R-Frederick/Washington, and Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, voted in favor of a civil unions amendment, while Del. Neil C. Parrott, R-Washington, voted no.
All later opposed the same-sex marriage bill during a final House vote.
Getty expects lawmakers will offer amendments on the floor in coming days, including measures to protect people who provide wedding services like photography or catering and also object to same-sex unions for moral or religious reasons.
While the bill prevents churches from having to preside over weddings for gay couples or allow those nuptials in their houses of worship or other facilities, Getty said it does not adequately protect individual business owners.
Shank said he also isn’t convinced that the bill has enough added protection for religious beliefs.
He cited a letter he received from two law professors and an author who said they support same-sex marriage, but they argued that the bill needs better “religious liberty protections.”
In a section where the bill exempts people or organizations, based on their religious beliefs, from offering goods or services related to the “solemnization” or “celebration” of a marriage, the letter urges that the word “recognition” be included as well.
The proposed law, sponsored by Gov. Martin O’Malley, broadly covers religious institutions, but should not create exemptions for restaurants and other businesses that are prohibited from discrimination under public accommodations laws, Raskin said.
Last year, the Senate passed a bill to legalize gay marriage by 25-21. It later died in the House.
Advocates say they are confident they have held onto the 25 affirmative votes, although Raskin indicated some opponents to last year’s legislation may be reconsidering their position.
— Staff Writer Andrew Schotz contributed to this story.