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Democrats lose political capital for social issues

By Tom LoBianco
washingtontimes.com

Measures to alter, repeal, ban, expand or do just about anything else to Maryland's most divisive social issues during the 2008 General Assembly session appear dead.

House Minority Whip Christopher B. Shank, Washington Republican, said lawmakers went through a grueling special session in the fall to help close a budget shortfall. They also passed a measure asking voters whether to legalize slot-machine gambling and approved proposals that increased state spending.

"The special session sucked all of the oxygen out of the room," said Mr. Shank. "And there is no political capital left for the Democrats ... to even think about casting a tough vote that goes against the mainstream on such contentious issues. So the status quo prevails."

With about two weeks remaining in the session, measures to either ban or legalize gay marriage, enforce or repeal the death penalty, and expand or denypublic services to illegal immigrants have failed or appear likely to fail.

House Speaker Michael E. Bush, Anne Arundel Democrat, and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Southern Maryland Democrat, said before the session began in January that they likely would not support measures on either side of these debates.

"I'd have to say, from my group's perspective, it's very disappointing," said Brad Botwin, president of Help Save Maryland, which is opposed to illegal immigration.

One social issue that still has a chance is represented in a measure to extend medical visitation rights to domestic partners and unwed couples.

The bill passed in the Senate and is being considered in the House.

Supporters of gay marriage say the bill's passage would amount to a marginal victory.

Opponents argue that the proposal moves the state closer to legalizing gay marriage. They won a key victory in September when the state's highest court ruled constitutional a Maryland statute defining marriage as between one man and one woman.

"There will soon be a recognition of marriagelike status," said Richard J. Dowling, executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference.

The group lost its battle to repeal the death penalty this year. The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee shelved a proposed repeal after an apparent lack of lawmaker support.

Mr. Dowling said he is confident of an eventual victory. "If it's clear to them that the people of Maryland are behind a repeal, and there are reasonable policy reasons, they'll finally get around to doing the right thing," he said.

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