Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley signed a law making the state the eighth in the U.S. to legalize marriage for same-sex couples.
The measure sets the stage for an election fight as opponents move to gather enough signatures to put the issue to voters in November before it takes effect in January. O’Malley signed the law today in a ceremony in Annapolis streamed live on the Internet.
“We are one Maryland, and all of us, at the end of the day, want the same thing for our children: to live in a loving, stable, committed home protected equally under the law,” O’Malley said before sitting down to sign the bill.
The state Senate passed the law last week and sent it to O’Malley, a 49-year-old Democrat. It puts Maryland on a path to joining seven states and the District of Columbia in allowing same-sex weddings. Washington Governor Christine Gregoire, a Democrat, enacted a gay-marriage law last month, while New Jersey’s Chris Christie, a Republican, vetoed a similar measure.
States and localities have been marrying same-sex couples since 2004 after a high court ruling in Massachusetts led to the first such weddings. The unions aren’t recognized by the federal government under a 1996 law signed by President Bill Clinton. That’s left the issue to the states, where voters have rejected the practice in all 31 referendums.
Same-sex marriage has been the focus of political and courtroom clashes between advocates who say citizens are being denied a civil right and those who see the practice as a threat to traditional families and values.
Other states where same-sex marriage is legal are New York, which approved gay nuptials last year, as well as Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire and Vermont.