After the Maryland Senate passed a bill to legalize same-sex marriage, most in the state thought the measure’s fate in the House similarly was a done deal. After two co-sponsors of the bill walked off the floor during a committee vote, its prospects became a bit murkier.

Del. Tiffany Alston, D-Dist. 24, and Del. Jill P. Carter, D-Dist. 41, both walked away from a proposed vote last week for personal reasons. Their walkout left a 10-10 House Judiciary Committee vote unresolved.

According to reports, Alston had second thoughts because of her constituents, who’d pressured her to vote against the bill. Alston was so conflicted she attempted to amend the bill – changing the language from marriage to civil unions.

However, the legislation, if passed, would not require a religious group to provide any kind of service or accommodations it believes are in violation of its beliefs, nor can that organization be the subject of a civil suit.

Supporters of the bill don’t want the language changed as they say the only way to true equality is to have marriage for all and not just civil unions. “Marriage provides a critical safety net for families,” Morgan Meneses-Sheets, executive director of Equality Maryland, said in a statement. “From every corner of the state, Marylanders have made it clear that a majority favor marriage equality.”

Carter, on the other hand, felt there were other things that should have had priority over passing this bill.

Despite their walkout, a vote was eventually taken on March 4 by the Judiciary Committee and the bill was passed to a full vote on the House floor. Carter and Del. Joseph Vallario, D-Dist. 27 eventually provided the necessary 12 votes to put the vote over the top. Alston voted nay.

With the impending vote on the House floor, co-sponsors of the bill and civil rights organizations are reiterating the importance of this bill. “To me, this legislation is all about family, liberty and respect. I respect the civil liberties of same-sex couples who wish to solemnize their relations and families in the eyes of the law,” said House Majority Leader Kumar Barve, D-Dist. 17, in a statement. “I also respect the values of those in our society who are not comfortable with same-sex relationships. Surely there is enough space in America for all of us to build our lives and families as we choose and live next to each other.”

It remains a touchy subject, though, even with those who voted in favor of the bill. Del. Sam Arora, D-Dist. 19, says he struggled with his decision to vote in favor of the bill because he says it will have a huge effect on Maryland residents.

“As the vote drew nearer, I wrestled with this issue in a way I never had before, which led me to realize that I had some concerns about the bill,” Arora said in a statement. “While I personally believe that Maryland should extend civil rights to same-sex couples through civil unions, I have come to the conclusion that this issue has such impact on the people of Maryland that they should have a direct say.”

Neither Carter nor Alston responded to interview requests.

George Barnette

Special to the AFRO