ANNAPOLIS, Maryland, February 24, 2011 ( – The Maryland Senate spent the day Wednesday debating the much-argued same-sex “marriage” bill before approving it in a 25-22 preliminary vote late in the day.  The bill is scheduled for a final Senate vote sometime today, which is expected to mirror yesterday’s outcome. 

Senate members yesterday discussed for hours many proposed amendments, most of which concerned exceptions for religious groups.  Originally called the “Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act,” an amendment was adopted yesterday to rename SB 116 the “Civil Marriage Protection Act”.

If the Senate passes SB 116, it will proceed to the House of Delegates where they have a hearing scheduled for Friday. 

The debate has a clear religious aspect: nearly one-third of the state senators are Catholic, and their bishops, who plan to host a pro-marriage rally in coming days, form the top lobby group against the bill.

A large part of the impassioned debate circled around proposed amendments to protect religious adoption agencies such as Catholic Charities to ensure their right not to hand children over to same-sex couples, reported the Washington Post

Democrat Senator Jamie Raskin, floor leader for the proceedings, maintained state regulations already oblige such organizations to service same-sex couples, while supporters such as Republican Senator Bryan Simonaire urged protection for religious groups.  “We need to put protections in this bill if we’re going to pass it,” argued Simonaire, who warned against “unintended consequences.”

The amendment protecting adoption agencies was defeated 30-17.

Other amendments protecting religious freedom had more traction. Language that ensured religious organizations are not required to promote same-sex “marriage” programs, or provide insurance to an employee’s same-sex “spouse,” were supported by bill sponsors supported the amendments, according to the Baltimore Sun

Supporters of true marriage, including the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), the Maryland Catholic Conference (MCC), and the Association for Maryland Families, have mounted a fight against the legislation for the past several weeks.

NOM published a poll last week by Lawrence Research, indicating that Maryland voters believe in the true definition of marriage by a 54-37 margin.  The poll also found that 78 percent of Maryland voters believe that they, rather than the legislature, should have the final word on legalizing same-sex “marriage. “

“The results of this poll strongly affirm that we are on the right side of Maryland voters,” said Brian Brown, President of NOM.  “Not only do voters support marriage by a 17-point margin, but they reject the Legislature’s efforts to impose this without public input.”

While Senate members believe that bill will definitely pass in the final vote, supporters of true marriage will push to put the issue on a voter ballot.

The Maryland Catholic Conference, comprised of the Archdioceses of Washington and Baltimore, and the Diocese of Wilmington, has also lobbied against the bill and strongly encouraged Catholics to contact their Senators

“Our opposition to this bill does not rest on a simple concern for the interests of religious institutions only,” the conference said in a recent statement. “Stripping marriage of its unique connection to parenthood erases from law the right of a child to a mother and father, and ignores an essential question of why government favors marriage between one man and one woman over all other relationships.”

The Maryland Senate vote came on the same day President Barack Obama announced he would not to fight to defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). 

Among those quick to decry the president’s statements was the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which called Obama’s negative characterization of true-marriage supporters “a serious threat to the religious liberty of marriage supporters nationwide.”

“[The President’s] decision represents an abdication of the responsibility of the Executive Branch to carry out its constitutional obligation to ensure that the laws of the United States are faithfully executed,” said the bishops in a press release.