Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley made history Thursday evening signing the Civil Marriage Protection Act into law.
The law allows gay and lesbian couples to get marriage licenses without requiring religious entities to perform, solemnize, celebrate or promote same-sex marriage.
“For a free and diverse people, for a people of many faiths, for a people committed to the principal of religious freedom, the way forward is always found through the greater respect for the equal rights of all, for the human dignity of all,” O’Malley said. “Religious freedom was the very reason for our state’s founding, and at the heart of religious freedom is the freedom of individual conscience. If there is a thread that unites all of our work here together it is the thread of human dignity. The dignity of work, the dignity of the job, the dignity of every child’s home, the dignity of every individual. We are one Maryland, and all of us at the end of the day want the same thing for our children: We want them to live in a loving, caring and committed home that is protected equally under the law.”
The law goes into effect in January, but opponents are already working to gather the almost 56,000 signatures to have same-sex marriage put to referendum. Many signatures will come from online petitions. The state Board of Elections approved the language opponents will use to gather the signatures, and the referendum is expected to wind up on the ballot in November.
Thirty-one states have passed same-sex marriage bills only to see them undone by opposing ballot initiatives, News4's Derrick Ward reported, but in January, a Washington Post poll found 50 percent of Maryland residents support same-sex marriage, while 44 percent oppose it.
The Catholic Church has openly opposed the bill, as have many African-American church leaders, whose congregants are expected to vote in large numbers in November as President Barack Obama is up for re-election. But liberal Obama supporters also are expected to have a strong showing on Election Day and could offset those congregants.
When gay marriage fell short in the House last year, black pastors were credited for pressuring delegates to oppose it.
Same-sex marriage supporters hope labor unions will urge members to vote in favor of the bill. They are also counting on religious leaders who support the bill.
The law makes Maryland the eighth state to legalize same-sex marriage. They are also legal in D.C.