Howard bill to raise marriage-license fee stuck in committee

Delegate hoping to attach constitutional amendment

April 05, 2005|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

The Annapolis version of the national culture war over marriage is slowly strangling a Howard County attempt to raise money for Columbia's Domestic Violence Center.

The county bill, which was approved by the local delegation, would increase marriage license fees in Howard from $35 to $50 and use the estimated $25,000 a year to help pay for domestic-violence programs.

Typically, a local bill favored by the county delegation gets the blessing of the full chamber. But the bill is stuck in the House Judiciary Committee - one of a handful of marriage-related measures stalled this year by Republican Del. Donald H. Dwyer Jr.'s determination to use one of them as a vehicle for a constitutional amendment to define marriage as being between a man and a woman.

Two of the 10 affected bills would amend the Maryland Constitution.

"If any related subject matter bill moves out of Judiciary or any other committee, I will attempt to put a constitutional marriage amendment on it," Dwyer said.

"The issue for me is to protect the institution of marriage. It's the No. 1 issue I'm dealing with this session and next," Dwyer said. "It's the agenda of the majority of people in Maryland."

The Anne Arundel County legislator said, "I'm against domestic violence as well, but there are other vehicles out there by which we can raise money."

Advocates for the prevention of domestic violence say they are dismayed, although Howard County Executive James N. Robey, a Democrat, has pledged to provide the program's money from county general funds.

Jodi Finkelstein, director of the Columbia nonprofit, said she was upset by Dwyer's comments.

"I'll tell that to the next victim who walks through the door," she said, adding, "My hope is we'll try it again next year."

Michaele Cohen, executive director of the Bowie-based Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence, said she had been puzzled by the bill's lack of progress, along with several others relating to marriage

"What a shame, to mix up these issues. The programs need the money," she said.

Dwyer said he's determined to get his issue before the General Assembly, and advocates for a marriage amendment have been unable to do it with a straightforward constitutional amendment.

"I've been stuffed at every turn," he said, vowing to bring the issue back next year.

Howard County delegation Chairman Neil F. Quinter, a Democrat who also serves on the Judiciary Committee, said the issue should come up for a floor vote next year, which should free the Howard bill.

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