Legislation to allow same-sex couples to marry is scheduled for a final vote Friday in the House of Delegates after surviving a first day of debate and several attempts to change it.
With advocates unsure whether the bill has enough support to win passage, a national anti-gay-marriage group pledged $1 million Wednesday to help oust Maryland Republicans who vote in favor of it and assist Democrats who vote against it.
"We know where the people of Maryland stand, and legislators need to listen to their constituents," said Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage. "If they don't, we're here to help hold them accountable."
If the House passes the legislation, Gov. Martin O'Malley has pledged to sign it. But there were few clues Wednesday as to whether it would make it through the chamber.
Supporters shot down four amendments Wednesday, though one — a measure to scrap the legislative action and put the question to Maryland voters — came within nine votes of passing.
The Senate, which passed the legislation last month, has signaled that any changes to the proposal would likely doom it.
Republicans voted as a bloc in favor of three of the four amendments, while Democrats, especially those in leadership positions, tended to vote against them.
Del. Talmadge Branch voted no on each amendment but said Wednesday that he opposes same-sex marriage. The Baltimore Democrat, who serves as majority whip, said the view is largely shared by his base of churchgoing African-Americans.
Branch said he voted against the amendments because "that's not the way I want to see the bill killed."
Delegates may offer more amendments when the bill returns Friday. The tone of the 90-minute debate was mostly mild.
Same-sex marriage supporters argued that the amendments were off-point.
The first would have allowed church groups and others that provide adoption services and foster care to turn away same-sex couples without fear of legal action.
Supporters of the bill argued that current laws against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation clearly spell out what such groups may and may not do.
Another amendment would have allowed parents and teachers who do not support homosexual relationships to opt out of any curriculum on the topic. Bill supporters said that, too, is covered by current laws and regulations.
Next, Del. Andrew Serafini asked to change the title of the bill from Civil Marriage Protection Act to Same-Sex Marriage Act. The Washington County Republican said it was a more genuine description of what the bill does.
His proposal also failed. Three Republicans — Nicholaus R. Kipke and Robert Costa of Anne Arundel and Patrick N. Hogan of Western Maryland — joined Democrats in opposing the name change.
House Republicans have decided as a group to oppose same-sex marriage, and leaders of the minority party say they believe each of their 43 members will vote against the bill.
Brown said the National Organization for Marriage will form a political action committee in Maryland with the aim of ousting Republicans who "abandon the party position."
He said the group has a perfect record when it comes to defeating Republicans who support gay marriage.
"Every Republican we've ever targeted, we've defeated," he said. The group helped oust four Republicans, in California, Minnesota and New Hampshire, he said.
Allan H. Kittleman of Howard County is the lone Republican senator to vote in favor of the bill.
Brown said the National Organization for Marriage has been working behind the scenes in Maryland, contacting more than 500,000 voters through the mail or phone calls. The group urges voters to call their legislators.
According to lawmakers, voters have been doing so in large numbers. Several delegates said during Wednesday's floor debate that they had never heard from so many people on a single issue.