The Maryland Senate voted 25-21 in favor of a bill granting same-sex couples full marriage rights.
The bill, which would grant the same title and rights to same-sex couples that Maryland allows married straight couples, was amended this week to include protections for religious groups and institutions so they won't be forced to participate in gay weddings.
It's headed to the House of Delegates, where it is expected to pass next week. Gov. Martin O'Malley has said he'll sign it if it reaches his desk, at which point it could go into effect Oct. 1, but opponents will mount a petition drive to get referendum on same-sex marriage on the ballot next Election Day, hoping voters in the state will reject it. If they get enough signatures by June 1, that would hold the Civil Marriage Protection Act from going into effect.
The Maryland Senate debate turned personal Thursday and extended into the evening. Sen. Richard Madaleno (D-Montgomery County) stood to talk about his partner, Mark, and their two daughters.
"He is my spouse in every sense of the word, but to the law, he remains a legal stranger," Madaleno said.
The definition of marriage doesn't include members of the same sex, opponents said. Sen. Joanne Benson (D-Prince George's County) objects to the bill on religious grounds.
"Two people of the same sex cannot produce children and that’s the worry that I have when it comes to same-sex marriage," she said.
Differences are not strictly along party lines. Sen. Allan Kittleman (R-Howard County) is voting for civil marriages.
"I look at it as providing equal rights to our friends, to our family, to our colleagues," he said.
Senators know the stakes are high. Some have received threats and robocalls.
"If I lose the election over this vote, so what," Sen. Ronald Young (D-Frederick County) said. "It's what's right, and I'm going to vote for what is right."
Some say same-sex marriage will forever change the state of Maryland and its families.
"If this passes, the journals of history will record Feb. 24, 2011, as the day traditional marriage died in Maryland," Sen. Bryan Simonaire (R-Anne Arundel County) said.
Five other states and D.C. currently approve same-sex marriage.