Update: The vote on HB438 is available here. As it turned out, one Republican (Delegate Robert Costa) voted in favor of the bill while five Democrats (Donoghue, Vallario, Alston, Kelly, and Valentino-Smith) voted against.
And now I see the strategy in going to two committees. Had the bill simply gone to the Judiciary Committee it would have been defeated on an 11-10 vote. It’s sort of a crock that it only passed one of the two committees yet still advances but that’s the way the rules go. Hopefully someday we can use them to our advantage.
By the way, Mike McDermott indeed voted no.
Giving gay couples their own version of a Valentine’s Day gift, published reports indicate the same-sex marriage bill (HB438) passed a joint session of the House Judiciary and Health and Government Operations committees by a 25-18 vote. This move was a little unusual, as a similar bill only went through the Judiciary Committee last year and passed that committee by a 12-10 vote. Last year was the first time that a gay marriage bill, which has been introduced five sessions in a row, proceeded past the hearing stage.
There’s no question that if this bill passes we will see it placed to referendum – if the courts allow it – but there’s no guarantee it would be upheld by the voters. While a January Gonzales Poll found the electorate slightly favored gay marriage by a 49-47 margin, the ones who strongly oppose the measure outnumber the strong supporters by a 38-34 margin. The intent of this piece is to consider the effects on this year’s election.
While this bill has strong and principled opposition those who favor gay marriage tend to have demographics on their side, as younger voters don’t stand for morality and traditional custom as much as their elders do. A generation ago, this bill would have been unthinkable but the small minority who would actually take advantage of this has also been the squeaky wheel that got the grease. At some point, Maryland is going to pass this bill, but it makes a big difference whether the bill is passed in 2012 or 2013/2014.
Let’s say the fifth time is the charm and the measure is passed this session. There’s a very good certainty that this bill would attract the 55,000 or so signatures to place it to referendum, even under a threat of tactics such as those exhibited during the Proposition 8 fight in California, and be placed on the 2012 ballot.
Because this is a federal election year, the ballot in Maryland will generally consist of only a few key races: President, one U.S. Senate seat, and the Congressional representative of a particular region. Certain areas also elect a handful of county offices, mostly for elected school boards.
The 2011 petition drive, however, placed the question of allowing in-state tuition for illegal aliens on the ballot, which has the potential to bring out conservative voters in larger numbers. (The Gonzales Poll I cited also discussed the Maryland DREAM Act: while the two sides are in a statistical tie overall – just like the gay marriage issue – the strongly opposed far outnumber the strongly in favor by a 37-21 margin.) Therefore, while the turnout will be higher for this election, it may not be in the best interest of gay marriage proponents to be on the same ballot with the DREAM Act. Otherwise, these issues could result in a possible upset or two on the downballot races for Congress and the U.S. Senate because conservatives will turn out in droves for these issues regardless of Maryland’s prospects for supporting the failed policies of Barack Obama.
On the other hand, let’s say the measure is defeated this year but manages to get over the hump in 2013 or 2014. Those who are passionately against the issue will again place the bill into referendum, but the dynamics of the election would be far different. Those who actually voted for or against the bill could be on the ballot at the same time, and while voters aren’t known for having long memories this would remind them of how their particular legislator voted on the issue and perhaps help sway the electorate one way or the other.
A 2013 passage would be a little better in that respect, as time has a way of healing those wounds. Moreover, there’s likely to be a lot of turnover in the Maryland General Assembly anyway because 2014 will be the first election after the gerrymandering of districts around the state. (By the way, this issue is taking time away from consideration of any other legislative plans – if no plan emerges from the General Assembly by the end of this month, the lines Governor O’Malley drew would be the official ones, pending any court challenges of course.) A number of Democratic seats will also be opening up as the leapfrogging of elected officials to higher positions will begin with the potential scrum for the Governor’s race, which could open up other statewide offices as well. A 2014 ballot placement would probably maintain the status quo in the General Assembly and maintain the governorship for whichever Democrat wins their primary since heavily Democratic areas would likely turn out to support the bill while heavily Republican areas go against it – we know how that usually works in Maryland. Those who are passionately on one side or the other don’t tend to be unaffiliated voters and gay marriage wouldn’t be sharing the spotlight with another contentious ballot issue.
Whether it goes on the ballot in 2012 or not, you can be sure that the floor votes will be scored as part of the monoblogue Accountability Project. If I get too vindictive I might double up and add the committee votes as well, since almost 1/3 of the House of Delegates voted on the bill in committee, too.
Assuming I can get a hold of the committee votes tomorrow I will update you on who voted which way. Only one local Delegate had a vote on this and I’m 99.9% sure Mike McDermott would have been against moving the bill forward based on his remarks. It sound like the Republicans held firm, but unfortunately there’s only around 7 on each committee out of 22 or so total.
Valentine’s Day might be one to remember for Adam and Steve.