Votes and marriage

February 05, 2006

Last year, a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in Maryland died in the House Judiciary Committee. On Thursday, the same committee killed a similar proposal. No surprise there - and that's pretty much the only actual policy decision involved, despite all of last week's brouhaha in Annapolis. The rest is procedure and politics - Republicans crying about how they got trampled and Democrats dodging a floor vote.

The legislation in its original form was an embarrassment to all involved. It went beyond restricting marriage to potentially stripping gays of other legal rights as well. The bill's sponsors claim they don't mean to discriminate. But opponents demonstrated that wasn't true by amending the bill in committee to allow for civil unions. Support suddenly vanished. Apparently, allowing gay partners such basics as full health insurance benefits is just too much for Del. Donald H. Dwyer Jr. and his followers to bear.

There was a time not long ago when Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. spoke sympathetically of the plight of same-sex couples (or at least seemed hesitant to endorse government-sanctioned discrimination against them). But he turned a pirouette last week by wholeheartedly endorsing Mr. Dwyer's bill. The siren song of politics (specifically, the chance to rally fundamentalists behind his re-election bid this fall) proved too alluring. The governor even took to the radio talk-show circuit to float the notion that Court of Appeals appointments in the next term could spell the difference.

Between Mr. Ehrlich's prodigious spending of late despite projected budget deficits and his kowtowing to the religious right, his transformation into George W. Bush is nearly complete.

This much is clear: It's far too early for the legislature to weigh in on a matter that's yet to be heard by the state's highest court. Will the opinion of one city judge that Maryland's ban against same-sex marriage is unconstitutional be reversed? Nobody knows. And monkeying with the state constitution - particularly when the meddling is so ill-conceived - is problematic. The committee acted correctly. Let the court rule first. Until then, everything else is just blather.

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