WASHINGTON A bill that could make Maryland the sixth state to legalize gay marriage lost momentum and became stalled on Friday.
After two hours of debate by the full House of Delegates, the Civil Marriage Protection Act was returned to the committee where it was mired last week.
Many African American delegates said they felt pressured to act according to the wishes of their constituency, including black churches opposed to using the word "marriage" to describe same-sex relationships.
"It turns a moral wrong into a civil right," said Democratic delegate Emmett Burns, Jr..
The chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Joseph Vallario, offered the motion to return the bill to his committee.
"I don't think there has ever been an issue, in the 37 years I have been down here, that has brought more attention, that has had more input from your citizens and from your church," said Vallario before making the motion.
The Senate passed the controversial bill last month. Its journey through the House has been marked by fits and starts such as when two co-sponsors of the bill delayed the committee vote needed to bring the bill before the full House.
Democratic Governor Martin O'Malley has publicly supported the bill.
On Friday, debate over the bill centered around the status of gay marriage as a civil right.
Two amendments were offered, one to allow the issue to be resolved by a referendum put before citizen voters and the other to change the language of the proposed law to civil union instead of marriage. Both were rejected.
Seven openly homosexual delegates personally appealed to their colleagues to pass the bill.
Instead, the bill was sent back to the House Judiciary Committee, where its future is unclear.
(Reporting by Wendell Marsh; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Greg McCune)