Md. Gay Marriage Opponents Prepare for Referendum

Gay marriage opponents are gathering names for a referendum as the Maryland House of Delegates consider a bill that would legalize gay marriage in the state.

Supporters of traditional marriage are not waiting for state delegates or Gov. Martin O'Malley to approve the gay marriage legislation before preparing for the 2012 referendum. Pro-family advocates are already collecting petition signatures to give voters the final say in the same-sex marriage debate.

Family Research Council Chaplain Rev. Pierre Bynum, who is a Maryland resident, is very optimistic that there will be enough support for a referendum.

"There's no question that the numbers are there to overturn this," said Bynum in a statement Monday.

He and other FRC members are expected to rally Maryland's church community to get the 53,650 signatures needed to get the issue on the 2012 ballot. House Committee members could vote as early as Tuesday on the measure.

"There are churches in our coalition that have 20,000 people in their church, so it's a question of just circulating [a petition] among a few churches," Bynum explained.

The Maryland House of Delegates is currently considering the state Senate bill that would allow homosexuals to wed lawfully.

Although Maryland's Senate approved the gay marriage legislation last week, members were deeply divided over the issue. The final vote was 25-21 in favor of legalizing marriage among homosexuals.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Calvert) and opponents of the bill vowed that if the legislation becomes law, it would appear on the 2012 ballot as a referendum question for residents to vote on.

When the issue comes before residents, Rev. Bynum said, some of those who were silent on gay marriage will break their silence. "We're not going to fail," he asserted.

However, many believe the bill's passage through the conservative state Senate and O'Malley's willingness to sign the bill is a sign that Marylanders are ready for legalized gay marriage.

O'Malley, a Catholic, agreed to sign a same-sex marriage bill as long as it includes a provision allowing churches to refuse to perform a same-sex wedding. An amendment protecting religious groups and institutions was added in before the bill was passed Feb. 24.

Attorney General Doug Gansler told CBS station WJZ, "There's a national movement toward [gay marriage]. More people in Maryland now favor it than are against it."

However, a recent poll found that the majority of Maryland voters are against gay marriage. Among those surveyed, 54 percent support marriage between one man and one woman compared to 37 percent who say marriage should be available to same-sex couples.

The state House could take a final vote on the legislation by Friday. The House needs 71 votes to approve the legislation and pass it to the governor for his signature. Delegate Heather Mizeur, an openly lesbian lawmaker, told NBC's affiliate WBAL that there are 69 commitments for the bill so far within the chamber.

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