The Strategy Behind the Maryland Marriage Bill Withdrawal

Advocates of equality were disappointed Friday when Maryland's pending marriage bill failed to pass the House of Delegates. It had already passed the Senate, in part because the vitriol of equality opponents had prompted one legislator to switch from opposing to supporting the bill. Unfortunately, advocates were unable to garner a majority of the House.

However, the bill was not defeated in a floor vote, but instead was "recommitted to committee." This is a critical distinction, one that allows advocates to introduce the bill again next year with a greater chance of success. Equality Maryland board member David Lublin explains the strategy on Maryland Politics Watch:

The House of Delegates agreed on a unanimous voice vote to recommit the bill to the House Judiciary Committee. This decision effectively kills the bill for the year. Many people naturally wonder why no vote was taken after all of the hard work that was done to advance the bill by so many people inside and outside of the legislature. Proponents agreed to this because they fell a few votes short of those needed to pass the bill on the floor of the House.

The argument for a vote is clear. People have a right to know where their legislators stand on such an important issue. Regardless of the outcome, it would have been the democratic process in action with delegates reflecting the will of their constituents and acting as our representatives.

On the other hand, proponents would have lost by a greater number than the closeness of the unofficial count because some "yes" votes would have become "no" votes. Legislators in marginal districts who might have been willing to stick their necks out to pass a meaningful piece of legislation would not do so if the legislation was going to fail.

Additionally, going forward, it is a lot harder to convert the votes of people who have cast a vote on the floor against marriage than it is to gain the votes of the undecided or who have said they oppose it but have yet to cast an actual vote on the topic. The thought behind not holding a vote is that it makes it easier to bring it up again next year and also does not demoralize opponents in other states. That was the thinking behind the decision to recommit.

Had the bill been defeated in a floor vote, then it would have been hard to reintroduce it successfully until after the next legislative elections, which are not until November 2014. But with the bill recommitted, advocates are freer to introduce it next year. In the meantime, they can spend the intervening months reaching out to legislators and the general population.

PFAW