Sen. Katherine A. Klausmeier talks on the phone after the session. (Algerina Perna, Baltimore…)
As a lifelong Roman Catholic, state Sen. Katherine Klausmeier grew up with the clear understanding that marriage is between a man and a woman.
But the Baltimore County Democrat also empathizes with young gay couples, including two women who recently sat in her office and described the joy of raising children.
As the Senate prepares to consider making same-sex marriage legal in Maryland, Klausmeier wakes up in the morning believing she'll vote one way, but by the end of the day has a different idea.
"To me it is one of the most major bills I'll ever vote on," said Klausmeier, who has served 16 years in the General Assembly. "Ten years from now, whatever happens, I will look back and say, 'Wow, I remember when that happened.'"
Klausmeier is one of a half-dozen lawmakers who have yet to declare a position on the bill — a group large enough to determine its fate.
A Sun analysis of the 47-member chamber shows 20 solid supporters; 24 are needed for passage. Of the six who are undeclared, Klausmeier and Democratic Sens. Joan Carter Conway and Ulysses Currie said they remain undecided; Sens. John Astle, Edward Kasemeyer and James Rosapepe, all Democrats, declined to share their voting plans.
"I'm holding my cards," said Astle, of Anne Arundel County. "It's probably going to be the most emotional issue this session."
If the Senate approves the measure, it will go to the House of Delegates, where its backers say they have the votes to pass it.
Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, has said he would sign such a bill. Opponents could then seek a referendum to overturn it, and the voters would decide.
With passage, Maryland would become the sixth state to recognize same-sex marriage. It is also legal in the District of Columbia.
The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, a majority of whose members support the bill, hears testimony Tuesday. But the debate is already under way.
Gay-rights group Equality Maryland is planning a Valentine's Day lobbying blitz, and the Maryland Catholic Conference says it will bring hundreds of opponents to Annapolis the following week.
The schedules of undeclared lawmakers have filled with visits from church leaders and same-sex couples.
Even those who have made their positions known are hearing from activists. Sen. James Robey, a Howard County Democrat who supports the bill, said his office received something like 55 calls in a row from opponents last week.
The issue has already had an impact on the Senate this year. Sen. Allan H. Kittleman resigned as minority leader last month after fellow Republicans urged him not to introduce a bill to legalize same-sex civil unions.
Finding little support for civil unions from either side of the debate, the Howard County Republican has since announced that he will vote for the gay marriage bill. The Senate Republican caucus said last week it would oppose the legislation.
Sen. Richard Madaleno, Maryland's first and only openly gay state senator, said he has not lobbied his colleagues. But the Montgomery County Democrat hopes his presence — and that of his partner of 10 years and their two young adopted children — have had an influence on them.
After several years pushing for gay marriage, he has called this year a "magical moment" for the movement.
Religion has loomed large in the debate.
Nearly one-third of the senators are Catholic, according to the Maryland Catholic Conference, and many other legislators are deeply involved in other churches. Sen. C. Anthony Muse, a Prince George's County Democrat who opposes same-sex marriage, is senior pastor of the Ark of Safety Christian Church in Upper Marlboro.
The Rev. Derek McCoy, leader of a political action committee called Maryland Citizen's Clergy, is organizing pastors to preach against the bill on Sundays.
When lobbying, he said, he tries to impress upon lawmakers that the institution of marriage has biblical roots: He says God defined it as the union of a man and a woman in the Genesis account of Adam and Eve.
"We did not define it originally, and we cannot redefine it now," McCoy said.
Other faith-based organizations support the legislation. New Ways Ministry is planning a conference in Pikesville that organizer Francis DeBernardo said will point out that lay Catholics "have a different approach to the question of marriage equality than their bishops do."
The bill, which its authors have named the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act, would not require religious institutions to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies, or give money or special privileges to any that do.
Robey has been a member of Gary Memorial United Methodist Church near Ellicott City for 65 years. He was married in a religious ceremony, as was his son.
"I believe in God," said Robey, a former Howard County executive and police chief. "But I also believe that everyone should have the same rights."