Maryland Senate approved Governor Martin O'Malley's bill to legalize same-sex marriage on Thursday night (23 February) and he plans to sign it into law next week.
The Senate chambers burst into cheers after the 25-22 vote was read aloud. A group of seven gay and lesbian lawmakers from the House of Delegates then dashed to embrace supportive senators.
‘I think I'm speechless,’ the Baltimore Sun quoted Richard Madaleno, the only openly gay senator, as saying. ‘This is a remarkable day.’
Coming on the heels of Washington, Maryland is the eighth state to approve gay marriage and the fourth state to do so in the past year.
However, opponents have vowed to force a referendum on the issue before the new law takes effect in January.
Religious groups and conservatives will launch petitions in a bid to garner the 55,736 signatures – 3% of the votes cast at the last gubernatorial election – needed to trigger a referendum, reported the Los Angeles Times.
While the public in Maine, Arizona and California voted down gay marriage laws in 2008 and 2009, supporters remain hopeful and point to the increasing numbers of voters backing same-sex unions.
A nationwide CBS News/New York Times poll conducted earlier this month showed 40% of respondents favored allowing same-sex marriages, while 23% supported civil unions. 31% rejected either measure.