By Wendell Marsh
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A bill that could make Maryland the sixth state where gay marriage is fully legal cleared a key committee on Friday, but supporters said its future was still uncertain.
After Senate Bill 116 was approved last week, it went to the House of Delegates Judiciary Committee where it was passed 12 to 10 on Friday afternoon, but not without some bumps along the way.
The vote was put off earlier in the week when two Democratic lawmakers who co-sponsored the measure boycotted the committee meeting. Delegate Tiffany Alton, one of the boycotters ultimately voted against the legislation.
As a result, supporters said that it was not clear what would happen next.
"If you looked at it today, I don't think that the votes are there but it's always a work in progress," said Judiciary Committee member Luiz Simmons, a supporter of the bill and legislative veteran
"I think there's a possibility of getting the 71 votes (majority), but I don't know. There is no way of knowing for sure."
House Majority leader Kumar Barve, however, said that he was confident of the count in favor for the bill.
"It's going to be close but I think that a majority of the House feels that this is a civil rights issue and it's a matter of giving the same rights and privileges and responsibility to loving, same sex couples that married people like me have," Barve said.
Yet, there are some, even within Barve's party, who disagreed.
"I will argue for the position that civil rights were not the same, our civil rights, the movement was not the same," Democratic delegate Emmett Burns, Jr. told Reuters. "Those who juxtapose the two are gravely mistaken."
Burns co-sponsored an opposing bill, which would ask Maryland voters to approve a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as being between a man and a woman.
"This is a matter of conscience and its nonpartisan," Burns said. "A lot of delegates are on the fence on this one."
Simmons said he expected that the final vote on the legislation to approve gay marriage would take place as early as the end of next week.
(Reporting by Wendell Marsh; Editing by Jerry Norton)