Maryland's same-sex marriage bill up for Senate debate

Same-sex marriage has been a contentious issue across several years in the Maryland legislature.

The same-sex marriage debate is heating up in Maryland yet again.

On Tuesday, a Senate judicial committee will hear both sides of the argument over a bill aimed at legalizing gay marriage. The hearing will be the first on this years bill.

Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley introduced the legislation earlier this month to allow civil marriage between same-sex couples, making the proposal a key piece of his legislative package.

The Senate Judicial proceedings committee and the entire General Assembly have heard the arguments before. The bill passed the Senate but was pulled from the House floor at the last second last year when it appeared there weren't enough votes for passage.

The difference this year is that Gov. O'Malley is supporting the bill which would legalize same-sex marriage but permit churches to decline to perform them.

"This bill balances equal protection of civil marriage rights with the important protection of religious freedom for all," O'Malley said.

Standing against the governor and the bill is a united front of religious groups. It is the opposition primarily of African American pastors which is credited with killing the bill last year. Several politicians admit they voted against their own beliefs because of church pressure. Those pastors say they are once again applying that pressure.

On Monday night, opponents rallied in front of the Maryland State House in Annapolis.

On Tuesday, opposing forces packed the Senate lobby before the hearing began. When committee room doors opened, people raced in to grab precious seats.

O'Malley says legalizing gay marriage in Maryland is a matter of protecting children.

The governor, a Democrat, testified Tuesday in support of his proposal to allow same-sex marriages before the Senate Judicial Proceeding Committee Tuesday afternoon.

O'Malley said the bill will offer certain legal protections to children of gay couples, providing parity with children of married, heterosexual parents.

"We are committed to ensuring that all families have the right to marry the person of their choice and to live their lives in the way they see fit," said Rodney Nickens.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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