The bill has already passed the state senate and must pass the house in order to go to Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley, who has pledged to sign it. Bill supporters once thought the senate would be their toughest challenge, but the house has turned into a fight as supporters of the bill abandon it in the face of increasing public pressure. Already, two former co-sponsors of the bill -- Delegates Melvin Stukes and Tiffany Alston -- have flipped and now oppose it.
The bill passed the house judiciary committee March 4, but only when committee chairman Joseph F. Vallario -- a bill opponent -- voted for it, arguing that it deserves a full floor hearing. His vote allowed it to pass 12-10. On Top Magazine, a homosexual news website, reported Sunday that "backers in the House concede they remain 4 votes shy" of a majority to pass the bill, although they "insist they will win with the help of several on-the-fence lawmakers." Democrats control both chambers.
Maggie Gallagher, chairman of the board for the National Organization for Marriage, said public pressure has helped. As reported by Maryland-area media, predominantly black churches have pressured lawmakers on the issue, urging a "no" vote. Stukes and Alston are African American. Also, at least some Catholic churches in Maryland told their members Sunday to contact legislators and oppose the bill. The National Organization for Marriage opposes the bill and played critical roles in defeating "gay marriage" legalization in California and Maine.
"They thought that they might have a little trouble in the senate but they would get it through the house easily," Gallagher told Baptist Press. "Instead, there has been an enormous outpouring of public opposition from -- most visibly -- the black church in Maryland. ... It's not really clear whether they can pass this bill. It's a very tough fight, and gay marriage advocates are quite surprised by the amount of public opposition -- and that it's coming not only in conservative districts but in quite progressive districts."
Morgan Meneses-Sheets, executive director for the homosexual group Equality Maryland, told the Associated Press, "It's not a done deal, so we're just going to keep working." Both sides say calls to delegates could be key. In casting her committee vote against it, Alston said she was voting no "for my constituents."
Only five states and the District of Columbia recognize "gay marriage." Even if the bill becomes law, Maryland citizens can gather signatures to put the issue on the 2012 ballot in an attempt to overturn it -- similar to what Maine citizens did with the "people's veto" in 2009.
"We're highly confident that if the house does vote wrong that we will be able to get it to the people of Maryland," Gallagher said. "Our internal polls make us extremely optimistic that we'll win and that Maryland will join Maine and California and the 31 states where the people have had a chance to vote and have voted that marriage should be one man, one woman."
Robert Anderson Jr., pastor of Colonial Baptist Church in Randallstown, Md., told Baptist Press in February that the issue of "gay marriage" should not be compared to the civil rights struggle, as some have done.
"We didn't choose to be born black. To be black or African American is not sin," Anderson told Baptist Press. "The fact that we fought for civil rights, we were just fighting for justice for any man, any woman -- regardless of their skin color. ... To try to create a system and special laws for a group of citizens that are living in immorality and wanting to force all of us to embrace that as if it is morally equivalent, that is wrong."
Anderson added, "Jesus still saves. Homosexuality, lesbianism -- you can still be delivered from it. It's sin, and there's an answer to sin."
Rhode Island legislators also are considering a "gay marriage" bill that could receive a committee vote this week. It has not passed either chamber there.
Traditionalists warn the legalization of "gay marriage" would have a widespread negative impact on society, affecting the tax-exempt status of religious organizations, the religious liberty of private businesses and curriculum in elementary schools.
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press. The Southern Baptist Convention has a ministry to homosexuals. Find more information at www.sbcthewayout.com.
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