The state Senate has given p
reliminary approval to a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in Maryland.
The Senate Wednesday voted 25-22 in favor of a bill that extends marriage to couples of the same gender.
A final vote on the measure is expected today.
The two Republican senators who represent Washington County — Christopher B. Shank and George C. Edwards — voted against the bill.
Sen. Ronald N. Young, D-Frederick/Washington, voted for it.
It was the second major hurdle for the same-sex marriage bill. The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee approved it 7-4 on Feb. 17, allowing the bill to reach the Senate floor.
Delegates from both parties have said they expect a same-sex marriage bill to also pass the House of Delegates. A hearing in the House Judiciary Committee is scheduled for Friday.
Gov. Martin O'Malley has said he'd sign a same-sex marriage bill.
Currently, six states and Washington, D.C., allow same-sex marriage. The governor of Hawaii signed same-sex civil unions into law on Wednesday.
The Senate preliminarily approved the bill on Wednesday after opponents made several attempts to amend it.
One successful amendment, proposed by Sen. C. Anthony Muse, D-Prince George's, removed the words "Religious Freedom" from the title of the bill, leaving it as the "Civil Marriage Protection Act."
A second Muse amendment to add the words "Same-Sex Marriage" to the title failed.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. previously cautioned senators to clear their schedules for the week, including evenings, but Wednesday's debate was over after about two hours.
Under current Maryland law, only a man and a woman may marry each other. The bill would change the law to read: "Only a marriage between two individuals who are not otherwise prohibited from marrying is valid in this State."
An amendment approved in the Judicial Proceedings Committee last week would allow a religious organization to refuse services or goods related to the "solemnization" or "celebration" of a marriage that violates the entity's religious beliefs.
That concept was expanded on the Senate floor on Wednesday through other amendments.
One exempted counseling and educational programs. Another excluded a religion-based fraternal group, such as the Knights of Columbus, that provides insurance benefits.
Attempts to expand the religion-based exemptions to adoption, foster care, social services and housing failed, as did an amendment to prevent lessons about same-sex marriages in elementary school.
Sen. Nancy Jacobs, R-Cecil/Harford, the minority leader, tried unsuccessfully to get court clerks who object to same-sex marriage on religious grounds an exemption from performing those marriages.
Miller stepped into the debate and said those clerks need to resign or hand that duty to a deputy clerk.
Young, a co-sponsor of the Senate bill, is the only Washington County delegation members who has said he supports legalizing same-sex marriage.
"I think government should stay out of private lives, and everyone should have equal representation under law," he has said.
Shank has been a strong opponent of same-sex marriage and argued a few times on Wednesday in favor of amendments.
Last year, as a delegate, Shank co-sponsored an unsuccessful bill to amend the state constitution to allow only marriage between one man and one woman.
(Editor's note: This story was edited Feb. 24, 2011, to update the number of states in which same-sex marriages are now legal.)