Momentum in Favor of Same-Sex Marriage in Md. Senate

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    A panel of state senators voted Thursday in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage in the state, and the measure appears to have enough votes to pass a a final Senate vote.

    The Senate Judicial Proceedings approved the legislation 7-4 and added a clause designed to protect religious groups from having to perform gay marriage ceremonies or provide services for them.

    "We've got all the momentum now," said Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery, one of the bill's sponsors.

    More than that, they've got the 24th vote -- the one they needed to secure passage.

    State Sen. James Rosapepe (D-Prince George's, Anne Arundel) has left the ranks of the undecideds, NBC Washington's Chris Gordon learned Thursday evening. He will vote in favor of the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act.

    "I intend to vote for the bill as it was reported out of committee with a strengthened conscience clause to respect the views of religious denominations which do not recognize same-sex marriage," Rosapepe said.

    Senate Minority Leader Nancy Jacobs (R-Harford) said she expects any filibuster attempt by opponents such as herself to fail, the Associated Press reported.

    Public opinion on the issue has changed greatly, clearing the way for legalization, Jacobs said. But "for people of religious faith, God's word does not change," she said.

    Gov. Martin O'Malley has said he would sign the measure into law if it reaches his desk. If approved, Maryland would become the sixth state to certify same-sex marriages.

    Raskin offered the only changes to the bill, successfully amending it to protect religious groups from being forced to provide services for gay weddings such as renting out space or providing catering.  The addition does not conflict with public accommodation laws barring discrimination by businesses, Raskin said, and is similar to measures adopted by other gay marriage states.

    Raskin also amended the bill to extend the state's ban on marriage between siblings and blood relatives to same-sex marriages, if they are approved.

    An effort by Sen. Jim Brochin, D-Baltimore County, to "take Maryland out of the marriage business" and have the state only certify civil unions for straight and gay couples was unsuccessful.

    Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller (D-Prince George's) said he expects full debate to start sometime in the middle of next week. Work could continue through the following weekend, he said, as lawmakers debate the bill.