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Maryland Marriage Equality: House Of Delegates Passes Bill In Favor Of Same-Sex Marriage

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WASHINGTON -- The Maryland General Assembly approved legislation legalizing marriage equality on Friday, with Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) calling it a vote for "human dignity."

"The common thread running through our efforts together in Maryland is the thread of human dignity; the dignity of work, the dignity of faith, the dignity of family, the dignity of every individual. Love is an unalienable right," the governor said in a statement.

The Civil Marriage Protection Act of 2012 passed by 72-67, just one more than the minimum number of votes needed for approval.

"We could not be more grateful to the delegates who today voted to make all Maryland families stronger," said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, which was deeply involved in the Maryland fight. "Today, we took a giant step toward marriage equality becoming law -- and we are in this position due to the unwavering leadership and resolve of Governor O'Malley, Speaker Busch and our legislative allies."

The measure now heads to the state Senate, where O'Malley promised to "redouble our efforts." The chamber passed a similar piece of legislation in 2011, and it's expected to do so again this year.

Heading into the Friday vote, O'Malley's legislation was considered just shy of the backing it needed for passage. Sam Arora, a Democrat from Montgomery County who worked for Hillary Clinton before he assumed office last year, was considered a possible "yes" vote and was therefore the target of a strong last-minute lobbying effort.

Arora ran on a platform of supporting marriage equality, and he cosponsored legislation in early 2011. His support waned, however, disappointing many in the LGBT community who had backed him during his campaign. He eventually voted for the measure out of committee so it would receive a full up-or-down vote in 2011, but said the issue should ultimately be left up to voters in a referendum.

On Friday, he voted against it.

According to a source involved in the Maryland marriage equality battle, former President Bill Clinton called Arora and lobbied him on the issue. Although the Defense of Marriage Act was signed during his presidency, Clinton has since come out in favor of same-sex marriage and backed the push for legalization in New York state.

"I changed my position," he said in 2009. "I am no longer opposed to that. I think if people want to make commitments that last a lifetime, they ought to be able to do it."

The source also said that Terry McAuliffe, the former Democratic National Committee chairman for whom Arora also worked, had been planning on calling the undecided Democratic delegate. A spokesman for McAuliffe, however, denied that the call took place.

Neither Arora nor Clinton's offices returned requests for comment.

Del. Tiffany Alston (D-Prince George's County), who helped kill the bill in the General Assembly last year, supported it on Friday.

Clinton wasn't the only high-profile name in the marriage equality fight. The Baltimore Sun reported that a Republican delegate who was also the target of an intense lobbying effort received a call with an offer to talk with Vice President Dick Cheney -- who supports marriage equality -- in order to get him to back O'Malley's legislation.

In the past week, that lawmaker, Del. Wade Kach (R-Baltimore County), as well as Del. Robert Costa (R-Anne Arundel County), both came out in support of the bill.

The bill passed after two days of contentious debate and amendment proposals, including one successful one that delayed passage from October to January.

The coalition of Marylanders for Marriage Equality -- which included the Human Rights Campaign, 1199 Service Employees International Union, Equality Maryland, Progressive Maryland and other partners -- helped push the bill through the General Assembly, combining lobbying, communications, public opinion and field work.

The grassroots outreach, spearheaded by the Human Rights Campaign, included 15,000 constituent postcards sent to legislators, 18,000 emails to legislators, 800 emails thanking O'Malley and 16,000 phone calls to lawmakers' offices.

If Maryland approves marriage equality, it will become the eighth state to do so.

This story has been updated to reflect the official vote tally.

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