Gay marriage advances in Maryland, vetoed in New Jersey

ANNAPOLIS, Maryland Fri Feb 17, 2012 10:05pm EST

Steven Goldstein, chairman and CEO of Garden State Equality reacts after the New Jersey State Senate passed the ''Marriage Equality and Religious Exemption Act'' in Trenton, New Jersey, February 13, 2012. REUTERS/Tim Shaffer

Steven Goldstein, chairman and CEO of Garden State Equality reacts after the New Jersey State Senate passed the ''Marriage Equality and Religious Exemption Act'' in Trenton, New Jersey, February 13, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Tim Shaffer

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ANNAPOLIS, Maryland (Reuters) - Maryland's House of Delegates approved by a razor-thin margin a measure on Friday that would allow same-sex couples to marry, putting it on the road to joining six other states where gay and lesbian nuptials are legal.

The vote in Maryland, which prompted cheers from a packed chamber gallery in Annapolis, came shortly after Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a similar bill. Christie accompanied his veto with a call for lawmakers in Trenton to appoint an advocate for same-sex couples under the state's existing civil union law.

Despite Christie's veto, the Maryland action capped an historic week for gay rights advocates with bills to legalize same sex marriage passing legislatures in two states, and the governor of Washington signing into law a gay marriage bill.

While still highly contentious, gay marriage has gained suprising momentum in the states ahead of November's presidential elections, with supporters framing it as a civil rights issue and opponents saying marriage should be reserved for unions between a man and a woman.

In Maryland, state delegates voted 72 to 67 in favor of the "Civil Marriage Protection Act" after two hours of often-impassioned debate earlier in the day. The legislation goes next week to the state Senate, which last year approved a similar measure and is widely expected to do so again.

That would set the stage for the measure to be signed into law by Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley, a gay marriage supporter who lobbied fervently for the bill this week. One of his chief tasks was to sway black lawmakers, many of whom were hesitant to back an issue opposed by many of the state's black clergy.

At the Capitol on Friday, Baltimore residents Alli Harper, 33, and her partner Jenn Monti, 31, cheered the vote. They have been together for 12 years and held a religious ceremony exchanging vows in 2010.

"We knew the vote was close and we were nervous but hopeful," said Harper. "We wanted to be here when this historic vote took place." Monti said they are going to get a license "as soon as we can."

Supporters of the bill in the House of Delegates, the lower chamber of the Maryland General Assembly, turned back a handful of amendments offered by opponents to delay or derail it on Friday. They also managed to suspend a rule that usually bars final votes from taking place the same day as votes on proposed amendments.

A year ago, the same-sex marriage bill failed to win approval in Maryland's House of Delegates, but Friday's vote now sets the state on the path to join New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Iowa, where gay weddings are legal.

In New Jersey, advocates appeared to face an uphill battle.

Gov. Christie, a supporter of Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney and often mentioned as a potential vice-presidential candidate, has called for voters to decide the issue. No U.S. state has ever approved same sex marriage in a referendum.

Christie made no secret of his plans to veto the measure and followed through the day after it won full legislative approval.

He asked lawmakers to quit pursuing gay marriage legislation and instead create an ombudsman for civil unions of same-sex couples who would "carry on New Jersey's strong tradition of tolerance and fairness."

"The ombudsman will be charged with increasing awareness of the law regarding civil unions, will provide a clear point of contact for those who have questions or concerns and will be required to report any evidence of the law being violated. In this way, we can ensure equal treatment under the law," Christie said in a statement.

Democrats do not appear to have enough votes to override a New Jersey veto with a two-thirds majority, though they have until the end of 2013 to try.

"When we look back in the annals of history, unfortunately, the governor will see that he was on the wrong side of justice," Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, a Democrat, said in a statement. "All the couples disappointed by his action today should take solace in the fact that we are not giving up this fight."

On Monday in Washington state, Gov. Christine Gregoire signed into law legislation legalizing same-sex marriage, but it will not take effect until at least June. Opponents are working to gather signatures for a ballot initiative in November that would block the legislation.

In California, a federal appeals court earlier this month overturned that state's gay marriage ban, enacted through a 2008 ballot initiative. That sets up a possible showdown in the U.S. Supreme Court over the matter.

U.S. federal law defines marriage as between one man and one woman but the administration of President Barack Obama has chosen not to defend the law in court.

(Additional reporting by Dave Warner; Writing by Paul Thomasch; Editing by Daniel Trotta, Dan Burns and Greg McCune)

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Comments (9)
InMotion wrote:
Mafettig, you are an idiot.

Feb 17, 2012 10:32pm EST  --  Report as abuse
MaryWaterton wrote:
There is no public desire for “homosexual marriage”. 30 states have banned it in their state constitution with more on the way. In fact, no state in which there has been a public referendum has legalized it. The only states where it is legal are those dominated by LIBERAL DEMOCRATS or LIBERAL DEMOCRAT ACTIVIST JUDGES who forced it on the public over their objections.

Feb 18, 2012 4:05am EST  --  Report as abuse
reddragon696 wrote:
I was glad to read that Maryland has chosen to further the Civil Rights of Gay People by legalizing Gay Marriage and sorry to read that New Jersey has chosen to continue its discrimination by vetoing their Bill to legalize Gay Marriage. It is truly shameful that narrow-minded posters such as Mafettig and gordo53 are trying to trivialize this important Civil Rights Issue by belittling the law and suggesting that it is on a par with Bestiality and other Mental illnesses. Just like back in the 1950′s when laws were passed legalizing ‘Mixed-Race’ Marriages, this Gay Rights Marriage Law is no less important to providing Equality to ALL American Citizens. It will be a long drawn out process to eventually legalize Gay Marriage in all 50 States; just look at the Mixed-Race Law which did not get fully repealed by all 50 states until the early 1970′s when the State of Virginia finally invalidated its law against the issue; but I feel that it will eventually get done. I also feel that the DOMA Amendment will eventually get overturned by the SCOTUS as Unconstitutional if it is not repealed by Congress first. Especially since it is such a blatant violation of the U.S. Constitution which provides for Equality to ALL Americans. It is hard to believe that a country that professes to be so open-minded and fair towards all its citizens as the U.S. does would continue to be so backwards and out of touch with reality. The U.S.A. needs to move into the 21st Century as most of the rest of the world has done and start providing Equal Rights to ALL its citizens instead of a select few as it currently does.

Feb 18, 2012 5:46am EST  --  Report as abuse
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